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.
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."
With the gaggle of GOP 2016 presidential contenders growing, the Republican wannabes have largely refrained from assailing one another and have instead focused their wrath on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has launched one of the first R-on-R attacks, and he has done so regarding an issue of primal importance to the Republican voting base: guns.
A few days ago, Cruz's presidential campaign zapped out an email hitting up conservatives for donations. The solicitation showed Cruz, the tea party favorite, wearing a bright orange hunting vest, with a shotgun on his shoulder, and its message was stark: Send me money so I can support your Second Amendment rights, which "serve as the ultimate check against government tyranny." Cruz warned that he was "under attack from the left-wing media and even Republicans who want to label me as an extremist—all for supporting a fundamental right." And then he took a shot at the other GOP 2016 contestants: "I'm the only candidate running for President who not only believes in the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms—but has the record of fighting for it, tooth and nail."
The only Republican 2016er who's a proven crusader for gun rights? That was quite the claim—and a dig at everyone else in the crowded field, particularly the other GOPers who are competing for tea party and conservative voters. After all, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has declared himself a champion of gun rights. He has long supported the National Association for Gun Rights—a group that hypes itself as the conservativealternative to the NRA. Rand Paul often signs email solicitations for this outfit, such as one that asserted that President Barack Obama and the United Nations were plotting to "CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL 'unauthorized' civilian firearms.'" (Paul was not invited to the NRA's recent convention—because, NGAR president Dudley Brown claimed, "Paul is more pro-gun that the NRA.") Paul has repeatedly moved to eviscerate the gun laws of Washington, DC. And prior to becoming a senator, he campaigned at a gun rights rally with armed militia members who noted that guns could be used to prevent "progressive socialists" from thwarting Second Amendment and other rights. That is, Paul has established a rather die-hard stance on guns.
Yet that did not stop Cruz from depicting himself as the only true and tested advocate for gun rights in the Republican's 2016 gang. So what does the Paul campaign think of this Cruz attack? Paul campaign officials would not comment on the record. "We'll pass for now," spokesman Sergio Gor said—a suggestion that the Paul did not want to mix it up with Cruz at this point.
The same sentiment was not evident when I asked the Cruz campaign how Cruz could justify this implied assault on Rand Paul. Rick Tyler, a well-known conservative consultant working for Cruz, responded with a detailed email that essentially accused Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another GOP 2016 candidate, of wimping out at a key moment for the gun rights crowd:
[F]rom April 11-18, 2013 in the shadow of Newtown, CT, when the Democrats were lined up to hammer Republicans, Paul and Rubio never came to the floor to stand up for the Second Amendment when the Toomey-Manchin gun bill [which would have required background checks on all commercial gun sales] was being considered. On April 17, Cruz came to the floor promoting a bill (Grassley-Cruz) he co-authored which was the conservative alternative to Toomey-Manchin [and which did not expand background checks and made it easier to purchase and transport guns against state lines]. It got 52 votes including 9 from Democrats but failed the cloture vote. During that time Cruz and Lee were very aggressive in defending the Second Amendment including gathering stories for the Congressional Record of Americans who used a firearm in self-defense.
With this note, the Cruz campaign, rather than retreat from a political fight over who's best on gun rights, made its assault on Paul and Rubio explicit, asserting that both Paul and Rubio failed the gun rights movement in its hour of need.
And once again, Paul's campaign did not engage, declining to answer questions about Tyler's amplification of the original criticism. Rubio's campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul has insisted in the past that after the Newtown gun massacre, he quickly took steps to prevent any gun safety bills from advancing in the wake of that tragedy. On April 10, 2013, he wrote on CNN's website, "Along with Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, I circulated a letter promising to 'oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.'"
Following the Newtown tragedy, Paul considered Cruz an ally in the battle to beat back gun safety legislation. These days, Cruz is not returning the favor and looking to turn Paul and Rubio into targets in order to best them among a critical GOP constituency. The question is, how long will this remain a one-way fight?
Martin O'Malley endorses Hillary Clinton for president, May 2007.
One Democratic source tells me that Hillary Clinton's camp has sent a clear message to former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.): Challenge her for the Democratic presidential nomination and you're dead to us. Another source says that the Clinton crew has sent a different clear message to O'Malley: Feel free to take her on in the primaries; she could use the competition. I don't know which source is correct. Perhaps both are, for Hillaryland may well be populated by advisers and strategists with different takes on this question. But it does seem clear that Clinton, who finally jumped into the 2016 race with a tweet and video splash on Sunday, could benefit if she is challenged in her party's primaries by O'Malley or someone else.
There's about nine months to come before the first voting occurs in the Iowa caucuses—and 19 months until the general election. That's a long time. Clinton, who is hardly a fresh face, will find it tough not to appear stale to some voters during that stretch. She is already at a super-saturation level of media coverage. There are endless tweets, blog posts, and articles about every aspect of her campaign. All her moves—her logo!—receive inordinate press attention. Though she and her aides insist this race is not about her—it's about everyday Americans and how to improve their lot—the campaign is likely to be much ado about Clinton: how she campaigns, what she says, what's her vision, where she goes, how she's performing, what's her strategy, what's up with her husband, her connection with voters, her trustworthiness, her likability, and so on. Her every utterance and move will be dissected everywhere—again and again. (And the various dissections will be dissected.) On the Republican side, all the 2016 wannabes will be directing attention at her, as they each angle to be seen as the candidate best able to obliterate Clinton. Sure, the GOPers will eventually form a circular firing squad—they won't be able to resist the urge to attack one another—but they will direct many shots at Clinton. The around-the-clock Hillary Bashathon will never end.
It would be tough for any candidate to withstand this degree of hyperscrutiny for such an extended period. Might voters become bored with Clinton, through no fault of her own, before any voting starts? Might her message, whatever its merits, seem tired and worn out by then? If the Democratic half of the 2016 primary story is only about Clinton going through elections and caucuses with preordained results and being compared solely to herself, that will likely not engage undecided voters. What's exciting or interesting about a cakewalk and no substantial debates over political qualifications and important policy matters?
Clinton needs a foil in the Democratic primaries—someone she can joust with, someone who will expand the narrative, and someone she can beat. Waltzing through one election after another will not boost her commander-in-chief credentials. A fight or, at least, a tussle—even a lopsided one—will give her campaign more of a story to tell, and, presuming she wins the primaries, will position her as, well, a winner, not a candidate who is skating toward the general election on the easy ice of entitlement and inevitability. Barack Obama's ability to dispatch Clinton in 2008 demonstrated his moxie and his mettle. His glow intensified with each victory. Everyone likes a winner, right? And these battles were great training for the match-up to come against Republican John McCain. Clinton will not face as formidable a primary foe as Obama did. But a face-off against any opponent of consequence is better than a breezy promenade toward the main event.
O'Malley, who's considering a presidential bid, would make a good sparring partner. He's a smart guy with sass, but he's not a slasher who could inflict long-lasting political damage. In fact, the clichéd conventional wisdom about tough primary contests pulling candidates too far toward an ideological extreme and hurting nominees in the general election may not hold true. In 2012, Mitt Romney did veer far to the right to capture the Republican nomination, and McCain also sucked up to conservatives in 2008—and both men were harshly assailed by their party rivals during the nomination phase—but each still had a fighting chance in the general election that came next. Both were undone by errors made in the postprimary period rather than decisions and dustups of the primaries. General election voters have short memories—or don't bother to pay a lot of attention to the nomination battles. If O'Malley manages to score some points against Clinton, they would probably matter little after the convention.
Clinton's rival need not be O'Malley. But the choices for this spot are limited. James Webb? Lincoln Chaffee? Bernie Sanders (who's not a Democrat)? It may be tougher for any of them to engage her in a serious fight. O'Malley, too, is not likely to threaten her path toward that glass ceiling. But at the moment he seems the possible contender with the most oomph.
A primary battle—even a limited one—introduces risk into the equation. It's not hard to imagine Clinton and her strategists yearning for less uncertainty than more. (What if O'Malleymentum takes off?) And the Clintonites may not have a say in whether O'Malley enters the ring. Yet a primary fight that makes Clinton earn—not inherit—the nomination would cast her in a different role. She'd be a fighter, not a dynastic queen. The press and the public would have something to ponder beyond just Clinton herself. And all politics are relative; candidates usually look better when compared to another candidate rather than to a nonexistent ideal or even themselves. So perhaps Team Hillary should welcome the upstart Marylander into the contest. A slam dunk is more impressive when waged against a competitor, and even the Harlem Globetrotters needed the Washington Generals.