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What Hillary Clinton told Wall Street bankers in private, according to leaked emails

Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in 2014.
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Throughout the campaign, Hillary Clinton resisted calls to release the transcripts of speeches she gave at Goldman Sachs, other banks and corporations, and various private settings from 2013 onward.

Now, it appears, we can see why. Wikileaks has posted thousands of emails from Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta’s account, and BuzzFeed News’s Ruby Cramer found one email that listed several potentially damaging excerpts from those speeches. The Clinton campaign hasn’t confirmed the authenticity of this particular email, but they haven’t disputed it either, and Podesta has confirmed he was hacked.

The January 2016 email, which you can read here, appears to be the Clinton campaign’s own summary of what attacks could potentially be made on her from various excerpts in the speeches, as they weighed whether or not to release the transcripts. As such, the headers are framed in deliberately uncharitable and damaging ways, such as “Clinton admits she is out of touch.”

There’s nothing outright scandalous in here, but there are several statements that clash with Clinton’s recent presentation of herself as a staunch progressive and that likely could have been used against her to great effect by Bernie Sanders in the primary.

But weirdly enough, there are also a couple of other statements — namely Clinton’s praise of “open borders” and single-payer health care — that could (and will) be used by Republicans to portray her as a wacko liberal.

On any ordinary day, these disclosures would be likely to dominate the news — yet the leak of a video in which Donald Trump bragged that he felt free to grope women without asking permission because he was famous may overshadow them.

Still, the speech excerpts provide a revealing glimpse into what the potential next president of the United States said to wealthy people behind closed doors. Here are the most notable things in them.

Clinton spoke about Wall Street mostly positively, but sometimes critically

First off, at a series of events at banks including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, Clinton made it very clear that she is no scourge of Wall Street and overall views the industry positively. She did, however, also make sure to criticize bad actors, stressed that she wanted certain reforms, and at least mildly pushed back against the excesses of the financial crisis.

For instance, at a Goldman-Black Rock event in February 2014, Clinton said that she had “great relations” with the Wall Street community and “a lot of respect for the work you do and the people do it.”

But in context it is quickly followed by her challenging them a bit, pointing out that “the economic consequences of bad decisions back in ‘08, you know, were devastating and they had repercussions throughout the world.”


At the same event, Clinton said that though she grew up middle class, she’s now “obviously... kind of far removed” from that because of “the life I’ve lived and the economic, you know, fortunes that my husband and I now enjoy.”

Then, however, she added that “I haven’t forgotten” growing up middle-class, and the broader context was that she was calling attention to “a growing sense of anxiety and even anger” in America today “over the feeling that the game is rigged” — a feeling that she says she doesn’t think was widespread when she was growing up.

Later, at Deutsche Bank in October 2014, Clinton said, “It’s important to recognize the vital role that the financial markets play in our economy and that so many of you are contributing to.”

But she then pivoted to arguing that, “If there are issues, if there’s wrongdoing, people have to be held accountable and we have to try to deter future bad behavior, because the public trust is at the core of both a free market economy and a democracy.”

At a securities law firm in September 2014, Clinton said that as a senator, she had “worked with so many talented principled people who made their living in finance” and “did all I could to make sure they continued to prosper.” But she added that she supported reforms to the industry too, saying she had long called for “closing the carried interest loophole,” “addressing skyrocketing CEO pay,” and “regulating derivatives and overcomplex financial products.”

Finally, Clinton said at an October 2013 Goldman Sachs symposium that she’d likely turn to the financial industry for regulatory advice, because they know the industry best:

There's nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.

This is a pretty common point among establishment Democrats, and President Obama has also appointed many people with industry experience to key regulatory posts, but it can certainly be used to argue that Clinton was a bit too cozy with Wall Street here (though note that she also says that too little regulation is bad).

Clinton praises trade and says that her “dream” is “open borders”

Praise of “trade” in general is pretty common among politicians of both parties — usually, it’s just particular trade deals that are deemed to be bad, not trade in general — and Clinton is no exception.

“I think we have to have a concerted plan to increase trade,” Clinton told the Brazilian bank Banco Itau in May 2013. “We have to resist, protectionism, other kinds of barriers to market access and to trade.”

But her next remarks were much more eyebrow-raising:

“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”

Clinton’s mention of “open borders” and a “hemispheric common market” as her “dream” here will likely become a Republican talking point for years to come. Trump has repeatedly accused her of supporting “open borders,” but she hasn’t proposed anything remotely like that, so it’s interesting to hear her hold it up as her dream in private.

There is also one June 2014 excerpt flagged as “pro Keystone,” as in supportive of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which Clinton came out in opposition to in late 2015. But it doesn’t read like that to me, at least in what’s in the email — Clinton says at an event in Canada that “Keystone is a contentious issue” and then adds, “but that is not our relationship.” Read for yourself:


Clinton praises single payer health care

In a couple of speeches, Clinton made remarks that could be construed as praise of single-payer health care systems, though they’re somewhat ambiguous and caveated.

During one June 2013 speech, Clinton discussed various health care systems across the globe, and said that single-payer was good in some ways (getting costs down at comparable quality) and bad in others (longer wait times):

“If you look at the single-payer systems, like Scandinavia, Canada, and elsewhere, they can get costs down because, you know, although their care, according to statistics, overall is as good or better on primary care, in particular, they do impose things like waiting times, you know. It takes longer to get like a hip replacement than it might take here.”

Then, in a January 2015 speech, she said that she hoped the US could move toward “affordable universal healthcare coverage like you have here in Canada” — which, you’ll notice, doesn’t necessarily mean single-payer specifically.

“We're in a learning period as we move forward with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And I'm hoping that whatever the shortfalls or the glitches have been, which in a big piece of legislation you're going to have, those will be remedied and we can really take a hard look at what's succeeding, fix what isn't, and keep moving forward to get to affordable universal healthcare coverage like you have here in Canada.”

These remarks aren’t really very new or surprising, though — Clinton has long said that her main problem with single-payer health care is that she didn’t think the American people would ever support it.