Q&A With Congress: 'Bill Clinton Sold Out America on His Trade Policy,' Says Rep. DeFazio

You’ve got to give Rep. Peter DeFazio (D.-Ore.) credit for consistency.

In 1989, when former President Ronald Reagan accepted a $2-million honorarium from a Japanese company for making a nine-day visit to Japan, DeFazio ripped Reagan and proposed legislation that would have linked cuts in presidential pension payments to the outside income earned by former Presidents. "It’s unseemly, to say the least, when a former President cashes in on his prestige this way, and doubly so when he continues to receive his full presidential pension," DeFazio said at the time.

Last week, when Human Events asked DeFazio whether it was "unseemly" for former President Clinton to rake in more than $16 million in honoraria from foreign interests (see my story from last week), DeFazio did not refrain from criticizing Clinton as harshly — or, perhaps, more harshly — than he had Reagan.

"Bill Clinton sold out America on his trade policy," DeFazio said. "Yes, I think it’s very unseemly."

Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.), one of the lead House sponsors of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, conceded there was nothing in the law to stop Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) from using the former President’s foreign honoraria for her campaign, but he said that the Clintons should say they are not going to do so.

Here is what members of Congress said last week when I asked them about the "seemliness" of former President Clinton’s quest for foreign money.

We know from Sen. Clinton’s disclosure forms that the former President has gotten over $16 million in foreign honoraria, some from places such as China and Saudi Arabia. Is it unseemly for a former President to seek out this kind of money?

Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.): I’m not going to comment whether it is or it isn’t. That’s going to have to be up to former Presidents to determine whether they should or shouldn’t make the judgment on their own.

I have an important follow up on that. Because the two of them have two joint checking accounts worth anywhere between $5 and $25 million, Sen. Clinton is entitled to half of it that she could use for her campaign. Is that appropriate?

Brownback: That’s going to have to be decided by the ethics commission [sic] and for them to look at those issues if there is a relationship to it. You know, if you start down that road you are going to have to look at a lot of people and their sourcing of funds and the marital relationships, and I don’t think you can stop at just one. You’re going to have to say we’re going to need to look at everybody on this. I’m for full disclosure. All of this should be disclosed, and that’s what’s taking place here. There’s a question of whether you limit or stop it. I think that’s really something for the ethics commission to consider.

I need to take you back to 1989.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D.-Ore.): Oh, no. The way-back machine? You weren’t even old enough to report yet.

No, I wasn’t. But we have Lexis-Nexis. Since President Clinton has left office, he’s gone abroad to many places and gotten more than $16 million in foreign money. Now, back in 1989, you said when President Reagan went to Japan and got some money it was an unseemly way to make money. Have you changed your mind?

DeFazio: No. No. Bill Clinton sold out America on his trade policy. He delivered on the dream of Ronald Reagan. If it hadn’t been for Bill Clinton we wouldn’t have had the disaster of NAFTA. A Republican President with a Democratic Congress would not have delivered NAFTA, which has been a disaster on both sides of the border, caused a flood of illegal immigration, driven down wages here and, to add insult to injury, his whole engagement policy with China, who has now stolen millions of jobs from America in technology and the WTO, which neither Clinton would use against OPEC, nor the current President would use against OPEC. They mouth free trade, and the only time they really believe in free trade is when it profits corporations. When it can help consumers, they won’t do anything. Yes, I think it’s very unseemly.

You’ve been consistent all this time.

DeFazio: Yes, I think it’s unseemly. I still support the idea that presidential pensions should be offset by income. I introduced a bill a number of years ago about that.

I’d like to take this one more level. Because he has a joint bank account worth millions of dollars with his wife, she could use half that money from foreign sources for her campaign. Would that be appropriate?

DeFazio: It’s unseemly for a former President, but there are a lot of unseemly things that are not technical violations of federal campaign rules, which are a disgrace. So, I don’t think there’s anything illegal, but I certainly don’t like it.

Former President Clinton has been traveling around the world, making $16 million in foreign money in honoraria. And he shares a joint checking account with his wife and she can legally use half for her campaign. Would this be appropriate?

Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.): You know, I’ve never thought about that. That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if we’ve ever looked behind the way in which individuals obtain their money, but under Supreme Court rulings people can spend their own money.

Right, but candidates aren’t supposed to use foreign money. I guess I’m asking you how this would work.

Feingold: Well, I mean, I’m just thinking off the top of my head, it would be an interesting and possibly troubling step to start.

I mean, some of this money came from the PRC, Saudi Arabia.

Feingold: If someone literally earns money, that’s their money. I don’t think we want to start getting in the process of micro-examining how they got their money. It’s a very tough area because then you could start putting a value, but I understand the point about the foreign money.

Is this just something that hasn’t been looked at?

Feingold: I certainly am not going to state my position. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

Okay, can you comment on whether you think it would be appropriate to do?

I’m not ready to talk about it because I want to hear more about the facts. Nice try.

Since President Clinton left office, he has raised $16 million from foreign interests. Do you think it’s unseemly for a former President to seek out that kind of money?

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R.-Ariz.): I think it’s inherently Clintonesque.

Because they have joint bank accounts, legally [Sen.] Clinton could use up to half of that money for her own campaign. Is that appropriate?

Hayworth: Of course it’s not, but you know the way it works. There is one set of rules for the Clintons and another set of rules for the rest of America. I say tongue in cheek: Your point is well taken.

Since Bill Clinton has left the presidency, he’s made more than $16 million in foreign honoraria. Do you think this is an unseemly way for a former President to seek out money?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.): No. President Clinton is very, well, two things: First of all, it’s not the first time it’s happened. I recollect that President Reagan and President Bush, the first, did. And the second is that President Clinton is a world leader and people want to hear him speak, and I think nothing he’s done is improper here.

But he shares joint checking accounts with his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton—

Lieberman: I’m going to have to come back.

Lieberman aide: He has an event to get to.

I wanted to talk to you because you were one of the architects of campaign finance reform. Former President Clinton has been traveling all over the world getting huge speaking fees and honoraria from Saudi Arabia, China—

Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.): Who is doing this?

President Clinton.

Shays: All right.

And he has joint checking accounts with this wife, and she’s entitled to half the funds. I’ve talked with campaign finance lawyers. Would it be appropriate for her to use that money for her campaign?

Shays: No, I don’t think so.

Is there anything in the law that prevents her from doing that though?

Shays: No, but you are raising the point. My reaction is that she shouldn’t use any of her funds, and she would be wise to do it. Her husband is the former President of the United States. He can raise colossal sums from all over the world. He can raise money from people who aren’t even citizens of the United States and effectively take that and reconvert it to money for his wife’s campaign. I think it would be wrong, and I think they should say, "We’re not going to use personal funds."