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Acceptable level of corruption?

It’s clear what Hillary Clinton wanted to protect from scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business.
It’s clear what Hillary Clinton wanted to protect from scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business. AP

Bernie Sanders never understood the epic quality of the Clinton scandals. In his first debate, he famously dismissed the e-mail issue, it being beneath the dignity of a great revolutionary to deal in things so tawdry and straightforward.

Sanders failed to understand that Clinton scandals are sprawling, multilayered, complex things. They defy time and space. They grow and burrow.

The central problem with Hillary Clinton’s e-mails was not the classified material. It wasn’t the headline-making charge by the FBI director of her extreme carelessness in handling it.

That’s a serious offense, to be sure, and could very well have been grounds for indictment. But the real question wasn’t classification but: Why did she have a private server in the first place? What exactly was she hiding?

It’s clear what she wanted to protect from scrutiny: Clinton Foundation business.

The foundation is a massive family enterprise disguised as a charity, an opaque and elaborate mechanism for sucking money from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton Inc. Now we learn how the whole machine operated.

Two weeks ago, e-mails began dribbling out showing foundation officials contacting State Department counterparts to ask favors for foundation “friends.”

Say, a meeting with the State Department’s “substance person” on Lebanon for one particularly generous Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.

Big deal, said the Clinton defenders. Low-level stuff. No involvement of the secretary herself. Until – drip, drip – the next batch revealed foundation requests for face time with the secretary herself. Such as one from the crown prince of Bahrain.

To be sure, Bahrain, home of the Fifth Fleet, is an important Persian Gulf ally. Its crown prince shouldn’t have to go through a foundation – to which his government donated at least $50,000 – to get to the secretary.

Now, a further drip: The Associated Press found that over half the private interests who were granted phone or personal contact with Secretary Clinton – 85 of 154 – were donors to the foundation. Total contributions? As much as $156 million.

Current Clinton response?

There was no quid pro quo.

This is the very last line of defense. Yes, it’s obvious that access and influence were sold. But no one has demonstrated definitively that the donors received something tangible of value – a pipeline, a permit, a waiver, a favorable regulatory ruling – in exchange.

On the face of it, it’s rather odd that a visible quid pro quo is the bright line for malfeasance. Anything short of that – the country is awash with political money that buys access – is deemed acceptable.

We are hardly bothered by the routine practice of presidents rewarding big donors with cushy ambassadorships, appointments to portentous boards or invitations to state dinners.

The bright line seems to be outright bribery. Anything short of that is considered – not just for the Clintons, for everyone – acceptable corruption.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

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