George Stephanopoulos, a former Bill Clinton operative and generous donor to the Clinton Foundation, on Sunday interviewed Hillary Clinton and only offered a quick, meager explanation of his conflict of interest. The This Week anchor began his discussion by briefly informing viewers: “[A] reminder for everyone watching, I worked for President Clinton, made charitable contributions in the past to the Clinton Foundation.”
"Made charitable contributions in the past" is a little vague. What Stephanopoulos did was to donate $75,000 to the foundation of his former boss and his wife and then not tell his employer (ABC) or his audience on This Week or Good Morning America.
Perhaps aware of how this all looked, Stephanopoulos managed to be somewhat tougher than he usually would when interviewing a Clinton. The journalist pressed Mrs. Clinton on using the word “Islamic extremism.” He wondered, “You’ve also have been reluctant to say we're fighting radical Islam and I wonder why not? Isn't it a mistake to not say it plain that the violence is being pushed by radical elements in that faith?”
Some of the questions were of the open-ended, gentle variety, including this one: “Can you say today that we're winning the fight against ISIS?”
The toughest question, and one not expected from Stephanopoulos, came when he actually brought up Benghazi:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Another challenge you could face in this campaign. A majority of Americans question your honesty. Some GOP rivals and family members of the Benghazi victims are saying you lied to them in the hearing. They point to e-mails that you sent the night of Benghazi attack, one to your daughter, Chelsea Clinton, saying — I’m going to have to pull my glasses out to actually read this. Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al-Qaeda-liked group. Another one to the Egyptian prime minister: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack. Not a protest.” But the family members, as you know, say you told them it was by a filmmaker.
The anchor pressed, “Did you tell them it was about the film? What’s your response?” Clinton dodged:
HILLARY CLINTON: No. I understand the continuing grief at the loss that parents experienced with the loss of these four brave Americans. And I did testify as you know for 11 hours and I answered all of these questions. Now, I can't — I can't help it that people think there has to be something else there, I said very clearly, there had been a terrorist group that had taken responsibility on Facebook, between the time that I, you know, when I talked to my daughter, that was the latest information. We were giving it credibility, and then we learned the next day, it wasn't true. In fact, they retracted it. This was a fast-moving series of events in the fog of war and I think most Americans understand that.
A transcript of Stephanopoulos’s questions is below:
ABC’s This Week
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s get more on that now from Secretary Hillary Clinton. Back on This Week for the first time in this presidential campaign and reminder for everyone watching, I worked for President Clinton, made charitable contributions in the past to the Clinton Foundation. Welcome back.
HILLARY CLINTON: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it time to declare war on ISIS?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not declare war?
STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you concerned about in the declaration in war?
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve also have been reluctant to say we're fighting radical Islam and I wonder why not? Isn't it a mistake to not say it plain that the violence is being pushed by radical elements in that faith?
CLINTON: Well, that's a different thing. Radical elements who use a dangerous and distorted view of Islam to promote their Jihadist ambitions, I'm fine with that. I say it all the time and I go after Islamists too.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what’s the problem with radical Islam?
CLINTON: Well, the problem is, that sounds like we're declaring a war against a religion and that, to me, is number one, wrong —
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though the qualifier radical is there?
CLINTON: No because, look, you know enough about religion. You studied it. There are radicals in every religion in the world. I don't want to do that, because, number one, it doesn't do justice to the vast numbers of Muslims in our own country and around the world who are peaceful people. Number two, it helps to create this clash of civilizations that is actually a recruiting tool for ISIS and other radical Jihadists who use this as a way of saying, we're in a war against the West, you must join us. If you're a Muslim, you must join us. No, if you're a law-abiding, peace-loving Muslim, you need to be with us against those who are distorting Islam.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you say today that we're winning the fight against ISIS?
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Apple? No more encryption?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of your potential rivals on the Republican side say we have to do more overseas as well. Ted Cruz said we have to carpet-bomb ISIS?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely not, is that an absolute?
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, some of the Republican rivals have also criticized you for focusing on gun control after the San Bernardino attacks. Marco Rubio points out that France has some the strictest gun control in the war, that didn't stop the Paris attacks. California has some of the strictest gun control laws here, it didn't stop those attacks, either. So, what law would have stopped this?
STEPHANOPOULOS: On this no-fly list. The critics of that vote say that, you know, you look back at this list, it’s indiscriminate and they go back ten years and say 2,000 people on the watch list actually did buy guns. Government hasn’t found any one of them have committed a crime.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Some mistakes?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump and yesterday, Jerry Falwell Jr. said the answer is for more good people to have guns. Mr. Falwell urged his students at Liberty University to actually arm themselves, get concealed carry permits. Your response.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hillary Clinton here right now and he's hoping to take you on in the general election if you get the nomination. I want to get into some of the issues that may come up in the general election. One of the things you’re seeing Republicans taking aim at is your spending and investment programs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me show right here. Proposed a $1 trillion.
CLINTON: Over ten years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Over ten years and spending proposals. A lot of questions on whether you can pay for it by focusing tax increases only on the top three percent. Here’s The Washington Post editorial, they said “there's simply no way that the federal government can meet its current fiscal commitments plus the increased demands of an aging population and provide the new forms middle-class relief and business tax relief Ms. Clinton promises, while tapping only the top 3 percent of earners.” Your response.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’re also saying no tax increases at all for anyone earning under $250,000. Is that a rock-solid, “read my lips” promise?
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's your goal, but what if you can't get the revenue in other ways? What if spending comes in more than it does. Will you raise taxes?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Another challenge you could face in this campaign. A majority of Americans question your honesty. Some GOP rivals and family members of the Benghazi victims are saying you lied to them in the hearing. They point to e-mails that you sent the night of Benghazi attack, one to your daughter, Chelsea Clinton, saying — I’m going to have to pull my glasses out to actually read this. Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al-Qaeda-liked group. Another one to the Egyptian prime minister: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack. Not a protest.” But the family members, as you know, say you told them it was by a filmmaker. You’d go after the filmmaker. Here’s what they said.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you tell them it was about the film? What’s your response?
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about more generally. Do you think there's something to do to get a majority of Americans to believe you're trustworthy?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Immigration is going to be a big issue in this campaign. In the past, you have said that undocumented immigrants would not be covered by your health care proposals. Here’s an exchange we had in 2007? [IN 2007] Would illegal immigrants be covered under your plan?
CLINTON [in 2007]: Illegal immigrants would not be covered. No, they would not be covered. I'll continue to have a safety net which I think is in the best traditions of our country and for public health reasons absolutely necessary. We didn't cover them in '93 and '94 and my plan does not cover them now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, you say that undocumented immigrants should be able to buy into the exchanges. So, why the shift?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Martin O'Malley says they should. Why not?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And what's your reason for not going further?
CLINTON: Because I don't think legally you can. That's something that we can't legally support. The law is very clear about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump, last few days he's opened up — you're laughing again.
CLINTON: I'm sorry, I can't help it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's opening up a new line of attack on you.
CLINTON: Oh, dear, a new one?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he the one that you want to run against?
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain why he’s doing so well?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, you said you're getting better from learning from your critics. They tell you things that your friends won’t. So, what you have learned from your critics in this campaign?