Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
It appears to be a done deal: President-elect Barack Obama will appoint Senator Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. But while the Obama camp's vetting of Bill Clinton's foreign entanglements and activities continues, there is one thorny matter that needs to be addressed publicly: the identity of the donors to Bill Clinton's foundation and presidential library.
The former president has raised millions of dollars from overseas officials and corporations for his foundation and library--while also pocketing mega-speaking fees from businesses abroad. (He's also struck an unusual deal with transnational mining conglomerate head Frank Giustra.) All of this raises potential conflicts and ethics questions. The basic dilemma: can Bill Clinton receive millions of dollars from foreign nations and corporations that may have an interest in US foreign policy while his wife oversees US foreign policy? Unless Clinton opts out of his (often admirable) globe-trotting activities, this situation seems almost too knotty to be untied.
But aides to Obama and Bill Clinton aides are trying to work out rules that would govern the former president's actions. Last week, The Washington Postreported:
Various news outlets are reporting that on Monday, Barack Obama will announce his pick for Treasury secretary: Tim Geithner.
Compared to the other leading contender, Larry Summers, a former Clinton Treasury secretary, Geithner, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, is relatively unknown. Geithner is a career economist (with no Ph.D.)--no Wall Street master of the universe--who has worked in three administrations for presidents of both parties. He's been described as not an imposing figure, but a rather competent and steady person. Which may be why the Dow Jones shot up after word of his appointment leaked. (Take that, Hank Paulson!)
In March, Financial Times published a profile of Geithner. Some interesting bits:
I was agnostic on the matter of Hillary Clinton's possible appointment as secretary of state--until last night.
If Barack Obama, the president-elect, wanted to pull a Team of Rivals play, that had seemed fine to me. And placing Clinton in Foggy Bottom would remove her from the dicey business of passing health care reform. Would it unite the party? Well, judging from the election results, the party is pretty darn united already. Despite the griping of a few Hillaryites at the Democratic convention, her voters certainly swung behind Obama in the general election (see Pennsylvania), after HRC and WJC campaigned for BHO in the fall. Unless an explicit deal was made between Obama and Hillary Clinton, it did not seem that Obama, after bypassing her for veep, had to appoint her anything for the party's sake. Still, if Obama and his savvy band of advisers thought that handing her one of the best jobs in the Cabinet would generate political benefits they could use to advance their agenda, I, as a non-fan of Hillary Clinton, was willing to say, okay--for what that was worth.
But then this happened: the presidential transition of no-drama Obama became infected by the never-ending soap opera of the Clintons. And it really is time to turn that program off. There are plenty of policy and political reasons for a progressive not to fancy Hillary. She served on the Wal-Mart board when the mega-firm was fighting unions; she screwed up health care reform for almost a generation; she voted wrong on the Iraq war and then refused to acknowledge she had erred. But, worst of all, as the cliché goes, with the Clintons, it always does seem to be about the Clintons.
So we've had a week of will-she-or-won't-she and what-about-him. Couldn't this have been handled with a little more grace? Maybe not, since it involves the Clintons.
I don't know how the Obama camp approached the issue. But before Obama met last week with Hillary to talk about this, his team should have done a pre-vetting of Bill. And then Obama, at this meeting, ought to have said something like this to her:
Last week, the Obama transition team announced its agency review teams, which, according to the office of the president-elect, will examine key departments, agencies, and commissions, as well as the White House, to provide Barack Obama and his key advisers "information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration." As the media and most political consumers focus on who will get what senior position in the Obama administration, this group of about 130 people will do the nuts-and-bolts work of preparing the agendas for the incoming decision-makers. It's an important band of policy wonks and government experts. Many of the positions were filled, as might be expected, by Washington players who served in the Clinton administration. For instance, Reed Hundt, who chaired the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton years and who now works for a strategic consulting firm, is leading the team responsible for international trade and economic agencies. And Tom Donilon, a partner at the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, who was assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, is in charge of the group focusing on Foggy Bottom. (The bio for Donilon released by the transition office neglected to mention his stint as general counsel and executive vice president at Fannie Mae.)
The transition team has its share of lobbyists--despite that Obama once vowed he was "running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over." But while most of the transition team members possess the conventional resumés of Washington insidersalbeit Democratic ones--there are several transition team appointments that stand out as harbingers of change. Or at least potential harbingers. These are people whose careers have been anti-Bushian in a deep and profound sense that extends beyond partisan difference. They are academics or policy advocates who have devoted muchif not allof their adult working lives to advancing the public interest. Their presence on the review teamseven though the transition could use more of such peopleenhances the prospect for change beyond the usual. Here's a sampling:
Sarah Sewall is leading the transition's national security team. She is the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. According to her bio, her "research focuses on U.S. national security strategy, civil-military relations, and the ethics of fighting insurgencies and terrorism." The ethics of fighting terrorism? That's about as non-Bush (or non-Cheney) as it gets. She also started a project to create "a military concept of operations for intervening to halt mass atrocity." Not even Bill Clinton did that.
Revenge is for those who don't care about results.
That's the mature message of Howard Dean. Moments after the Democratic Caucus in the Senate decided to keep Senator Joe Lieberman, who had campaigned for John McCain's presidential bid, as head of the Homeland Security Committee, Dean, the outgoing head of the Democratic National Committee told the Huffington Post that the Senate Dems had done the right thing:
You know, the desire of revenge is great, of course. But the truth is public policy doesn't run on revenge very well. And when you see the trouble this country has gotten into in terms of foreign policy, where Bush basically ran a foreign policy based on petulance because he was mad at, for example, Mexico, for abstaining on the Security Council when the Iraq War came up, if you have to actually run the country, it is best not to do it based on feeling of anger towards your enemies....
My point of view is that Barack won. He can afford to be magnanimous. And if we happen to win both recounts and Georgia, Joe is the 60th vote. And the truth is -- and I certainly don't have to defend Joe Lieberman because, you know, we have an interesting history -- but the fact is, he does vote 90 percent of the time with the Democrats. And no, he shouldn't have said all those things. But why not clean the state? Why not start all over again? Why not allow him to vote with us on the 90 percent of the stuff? He will be a good vote on climate change -- and this matters. He may be a good vote on election reform, which I hope we will get to. So, you know, he may end up - though it is a little against the odds -- he may end up being the vote that allows us to conduct business when Mitch McConnell decides we shouldn't.
Dean has a point. Netroots Democrats got whipped up into a frenzy over the Lieberman matter. For many Democrats, excommunicating Lieberman--who is an independent now but who caucuses with the Democrats--would have felt great. They wanted to see the Senate Dems flash some political muscle. But getting personal is not always the way to get ahead. When Obama takes the high road, he can gain political capital. When congressional Democrats help him do that, they will be helping themselves. Lieberman is a sideshow--a sanctimonious, irritating sideshow. But the president-elect and the Democrats in Congress have much bigger fish to fry. They could afford to toss this one back into the pond.