Leaked speech excerpts released by Wikileaks show Hillary Clinton at ease with Wall Street and free trade

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during an Ohio Democratic Party rally.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during an Ohio Democratic Party rally.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES ) - In lucrative paid speeches that Hillary Clinton delivered to elite financial firms but refused to disclose to the public, she displayed an easy comfort with titans of business, embraced unfettered international trade and praised a budget-balancing plan that would have required cuts to Social Security, according to documents posted online Friday (Oct 7) by WikiLeaks.

The tone and language of the excerpts clash with the fiery liberal approach she used later in her bitter primary battle with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and could have undermined her candidacy had it become public.

Clinton comes across less as a firebrand than as a technocrat at home with her powerful audience, willing to be critical of large financial institutions but more inclined to view them as partners in restoring the country's economic health.

In the excerpts from her paid speeches to financial institutions and corporate audiences, Clinton said she dreamed of "open trade and open borders" throughout the Western Hemisphere. Citing the backroom deal making and arm-twisting used by Abraham Lincoln, she mused on the necessity of having "both a public and a private position" on politically contentious issues.

Reflecting in 2014 on the rage against political and economic elites that swept the country after the 2008 financial crash, Clinton acknowledged that her family's rising wealth had made her "kind of far removed" from the struggles of the middle class.

 

The passages were contained in an internal review of Clinton's paid speeches undertaken by her campaign, which was identifying potential land mines should the speeches become public. They offer a glimpse at one of the most sought-after troves of information in the 2016 presidential race - and an explanation, perhaps, for why Clinton has steadfastly refused demands by Sanders and Donald Trump, her Republican rival, to release them.

Clinton's campaign would not confirm the authenticity of the documents. They were released Friday night by WikiLeaks, the hacker collective founded by activist Julian Assange, saying that they had come from the email account of John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman.

In a statement, a Clinton spokesman, Glen Caplin, suggested that the leak could have been engineered by Russian officials determined to help Trump and noted that a Twitter message from WikiLeaks promoting the documents had incorrectly identified Podesta as a co-owner of his brother's lobbying firm.

But Clinton officials did not deny that the email containing the excerpts was real.

The leaked email, dated Jan 25, does not contain Clinton's full speeches to the financial firms, leaving it unclear what her overall message was to these audiences.

But in the excerpts, Clinton demonstrates her long and warm ties to some of Wall Street's most powerful figures. In a discussion in the fall of 2013 with Lloyd Blankfein, a friend who is the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, Clinton said that the political climate had made it overly difficult for wealthy people to serve in government.

"There is such a bias against people who have led successful and/or complicated lives," Clinton said. The pressure on officials to sell or divest assets in order to serve, she added, had become "very onerous and unnecessary."

In a separate speech to Goldman Sachs employees the same month, Clinton said it was an "oversimplification" to blame the global financial crisis of 2008 on the US banking system.

"It was conventional wisdom," Clinton said of the tendency to blame the banking system. "And I think that there's a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicising what happened."

And she praised a deficit-reduction proposal from President Barack Obama's fiscal commission that called for raising the Social Security retirement age, saying that the commission's leaders "had put forth the right framework."

Such comments could have proved devastating to Clinton during the Democratic primary fight, when Sanders promoted himself as the enemy of Wall Street and of a rigged economic system.

Several of the most eye-popping passages ultimately express more nuanced explanations of her views.

When Clinton describes herself as "far removed" from average Americans and their finances, she had just finished describing her growing appreciation for how "anxiety and even anger in the country over the feeling that the game is rigged."

And she reminds the audience that her father "loved to complain about big business and big government."

The Clintons have made more than US$120 million (S$165 million) in speeches to Wall Street and special interests since Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001. Hillary Clinton typically earned US$225,000 for speeches, though she sometimes donated her fees to her family foundation.

"I kind of think if you're going to be paid US$225,000 for a speech, it must be a fantastic speech," Sanders said during the primary, "a brilliant speech which you would want to share with the American people."

As her race against Sanders - who now campaigns for Clinton - grew unexpectedly contentious and close, Clinton sought to portray herself as deeply skeptical of Wall Street and eager to punish its wayward leaders.

"I believe strongly that we need to make sure that Wall Street never wrecks Main Street again," Clinton said in January. "No bank is too big to fail, and no executive is too powerful to jail." As she sought to burnish her image as an advocate of working America, Clinton declared her opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, Obama's 12-nation trade pact, and distanced herself from Nafta, which her husband signed into law.

But in a 2013 speech to a Brazilian bank, Clinton took a far different approach. "My dream," she said, "is a hemispheric common market, with open borders, some time in the future."

Some of her paid remarks embrace the view that the public can benefit when Wall Street partners with government. When it comes to writing effective financial regulations, Clinton said, "The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry."

Foreign hackers - authorised by Russian security agencies, according to national security officials - have successfully penetrated the operations of the Democratic Party and its candidates over the past year.

They broke into the email servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing internal messages in which party leaders who were supposed to be neutral expressed their preference for Clinton even as she was campaigning against Sanders. And Assange is an avowed critic of Clinton who has made clear that he wishes to hurt her chances of winning the presidency.

Half of all registered voters said it bothered them "a lot" that Clinton had given numerous paid speeches to Wall Street banks, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll in June.

Asked in an interview that month if the practice was self-defeating, given the anger over income inequality, Clinton responded that her predecessors as secretary of state had given paid speeches, too.

"I actually think it makes sense," she said. "Because a lot of people know you have a front-row seat in watching what's going on in the world."