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.
Last week, Jeb Bush, the all-but-announced GOP presidential candidate, stirred up a fuss when he privately told a group of Manhattan financiers that his top adviser on US-Israeli policy is George W. Bush. Given that Jeb has tried mightily to distance himself from his brother, whose administration used false assertions to launch the still highly unpopular Iraq War, this touting of W.—even at a behind-closed-doors session of Republican donors—seemed odd. But perhaps more noteworthy is that Jeb Bush has embraced much of his brother's White House foreign policy team. In February, his campaign released a list of 21 foreign policy advisers; 17 of them served in the George W. Bush administration. And one name stood out: Paul Wolfowitz, a top policy architect of the Iraq War—for the prospect of Wolfowitz whispering into Jeb's ear ought to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who yearns for a rational national security policy.
Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary under George W. Bush, was a prominent neocon cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq. He was also the top conspiracy theorist in the Bush-Cheney crowd. As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our our 2006 book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Wolfowitz, prior to the Iraq War, was a champion of a bizarre theory promoted by an eccentric academic named Laurie Mylroie: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, not Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda, was responsible for most of the world's anti-United States terrorism.
In Washington, as in much of life, it often seems that social evolution doesn't progress much beyond high school. So it was hardly surprising that in the media the battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was often depicted as a spat between the BMOC of the party (President Barack Obama) and the queen of the alt crowd (Sen. Elizabeth Warren). Yet the vote on Tuesday afternoon in the Senate that blocked fast-track legislation—which would allow the president to bring the TPP to an up-or-down floor vote with no amendments—was a sign that Obama's problems are not just with Warren, the Massachusetts populist and progressive darling. Every member of his own party but one voted to stymie a vote on the fast-track bill Obama has been pushing. And after the vote, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who often is mindful of the interests of Manhattan-based financiers, was at the mic denouncing the fast-track measure and demanding a trade deal that does right by American workers—a jab at Obama, who has passionately asserted the TPP is good for US workers.
It turns out that Warren was not holding a marginal position, as the White House had contended. The president was.
Could the main obstacle to Hillary Clinton testifying about Benghazi be Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chair of the special House committee set up to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans?
Clinton and Gowdy have been in a tug-of-war for the past few weeks. At the end of March—following the news that Clinton, the leading Democratic 2016 candidate, had used a private email account when she was secretary of state and that her emails about Benghazi and all other official matters were not originally kept by the State Department—Gowdy asked Clinton to come before the committee for a private interview to discuss the emails she had exchanged concerning Benghazi and Libya. After such a session, Gowdy noted, the panel would schedule a time for her to testify publicly about the event itself.
On Monday morning, Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a failed 2010 Senate candidate, announced that she too is running for the GOP presidential nomination. "I think I'm the best person for the job because I understand how the economy actually works," she said on Good Morning America. "I understand the world; who's in it." Not coincidentally, she has a new book coming out this week.
Fiorina's sole claim to president-ish experience is her tenure at HP, and that stint was marked by layoffs, outsourcing, conflict, and controversy—so much so that several prominent former HP colleagues recoil at the idea of Fiorina managing any enterprise again, let alone the executive branch. Seven years ago, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), then campaigning for the presidency, recruited Fiorina as an ambassador to women voters—and she was mentioned as a possible veep pick for McCain—I noted that her record at HP essentially disqualified her as an economic expert or a potential candidate. In the years since, she has not done anything that would prompt a reassessment. Her biggest accomplishment in recent years appears to have been running a losing campaign against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California—an effort perhaps best known for its production of the bizarre "Demon Sheep" ad. Though she has defended her time at HP, it remains heavy baggage.
Here's how I described it when she partnered up with McCain:
Her stint as a corporate titan was more mixed than master-of-the-universe. In 1999, Fiorina took over Hewlett-Packard, the troubled computer company, becoming one of the top women in Corporate America. Previously, she had built a successful career mostly in marketing and sales at AT&T and Lucent, but she had the not-so-good fortune to be taking the helm of an engineering-driven tech company as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to HP's ailments was controversial: buying Compaq. She pushed the $19 billion acquisition over the opposition of many HP stockholders, including, most notably, Walter Hewlett, the son of the company's founder, who argued the merger would not make HP more competitive.
At HP, Fiorina developed the reputation of a manager who knocked heads together—or who chopped them off. And there were massive layoffs during her tenure. In 2003, the company announced it would dismiss almost 18,000 people. (That year, the firm posted a $903 million loss on $56.6 billion in revenue.) When the outsourcing of jobs turned into a national political issue, Fiorina became the poster-girl for an industry campaign aimed at blocking any legislation that would restrict a company's ability to can American employees in favor of workers overseas. She and executives from seven other tech companies issued a report that argued that any such measures would hurt the U.S. economy. The best way to increase American competitiveness, they declared, was to improve schools and, yes, reduce taxes. At a Washington press conference, Fiorina said, "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs." The remark did not go over well with critics of outsourcing, who have ever since used it as an indicator of corporate insensitivity.
Fiorina's stint at HP was marked by other moments of controversy. In March 2004, after HP shareholders voted 1.21 billion to 925 million to expense stock options, she opposed the move, essentially opting to stick with accounting practices (that were used by other corporations) that did not reveal a company's true value. That same year, Forbes reported that Hewlett-Packard was "among many other U.S. companies that kept offices in Dubai and were linked to Iranian traders there." The article suggested that HP and other countries were skirting export controls to trade with Iran. And in early 2005, Fiorina announced that pop star Gwen Stefani would join the HP design team and work on the company's line of digital cameras.
Fiorina wasn't around long enough to see her Plan Stefani to completion. In February 2005, she was pushed out of HP. The company's board, with which she had been battling for years, had had enough of her. The Compaq merger had not yielded the benefits—improved shareholder returns and greater profits—she had promised. At the time of her dismissal, Hewlett-Packard stock was trading at about the same price as when she first unveiled the Compaq deal. Eighty percent of the company's operating profits were coming from its old-line printing business. She had not succeeded in reviving HP as a computer-selling powerhouse. The day she was dumped, the company's stock price rose 7 percent. That was Wall Street exclaiming, Hooray. As Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners toldMoney magazine, "The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly's leadership all that much. The Street had lost all faith in her and the market's hope is that anyone will be better."
Management experts say Fiorina, through the Compaq acquisition, created a good executive team with a can-do attitude. That helped a rank-and-file, engineering-focused organization consider how to market products instead of simply making them. But the charismatic leader refused to delegate operations to top lieutenants managing HP's far-flung divisions. What's more, she had a tough time getting them to work together…
As a result, many of the execs who came to HP through Compaq have jumped ship since the merger. That left Fiorina with much the same slate of HP'ers who were in key positions before the blockbuster deal.
Larry Magid, technology analyst for CBS News, observed:
There is plenty to criticize about Fiorina's tenure at HP. At this point, the changes that Fiorina made didn't turn out so well for the thousands of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq employees that were laid off and the millions of HP stockholders who lost equity since she took over. HP stock is worth less today than it was in 1999. Dell and IBM stock has increased in value.
But Fiorina did fine for herself. She departed the company with a $21 million severance package. "I doubt very much that she's worried about making ends meet," Magid cracked.
In her 2006 book, Tough Choices, Fiorina defended her management of HP and claimed the firm's subsequent successes were a result of changes she had implemented. But it had been a rocky tenure at best. Nevertheless, McCain is deploying Fiorina as a surrogate on economic policy and as an ambassador to women voters. But in this time of economic insecurity, there's not much about Fiorina's time at HP that can be reassuring to voters (female or otherwise) experiencing financial jitters. After six years at Hewlett-Packard, she ended up symbolizing not one but at least three corporate excesses: outsourcing, M&A-mania, and golden parachutes. Workers and shareholders did not prosper during her reign, but Fiorina made millions, got a book deal, and now is a top PowerPointer for a presidential candidate. She's a real American success story—for corporate Republicans.
When the recent controversy about the Clinton family foundation first emerged—thanks to Clinton Cash, the book by conservative author Peter Schweizer—all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush declared that Hillary Clinton is "going to be held accountable like all of us…That's part of the process." But Bush declined to slam Clinton or comment on Schweizer's admittedly unproven allegations that she took official action as secretary of state to benefit foreign donors to the foundation. He said, "I don't 'go off' on Hillary Clinton." And he explained that there would be time later to get into partisan sniping. But there was perhaps another reason for his reticence: The Bush family foundations are less transparent about their donors than the Clinton Foundation.
Nonprofits are not compelled to reveal their funders, and most treat their financial sources as top-secret information. But the Clinton Foundation does release the names of all its donors and the general amount of each donation (though it has acknowledged screwing up on occasion). It first made public its contributors in late 2008 after then president-elect Barack Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state. The need for openness was obvious: A foreign government, a corporation, or wealthy individuals donating to the foundation could have an interest in a decision or action made by a secretary of state. And the public had a right to know if any potential conflicts of interest were at hand. (The overlap between the foundation's funding, the Clintons' personal finances, Bill's global hobnobbing with foreign leaders and CEOs, and Hillary's official actions as secretary of state certainly deserved scrutiny.) But the foundation's nearly 3,000-page list of contributors was not searchable, and the foundation only supplied the names of the donors, not addresses or any other identifying information. The specific amounts of contributions were not provided, only the range (say, $5 to $10 million, or more than $25 million). Still, this was much more transparency than what is practiced by most foundations. As Tom Watson recently wrote at Forbes.com, "In truth, the Clinton Foundation is among the most forthcoming of major charities and nonprofit foundations—especially those headed by public figures."