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The Big Dog Goes Where He Wants

Bill Clinton speaking with a microphone in front of an American flag
photo by Gage Skidmore

Bill and Hillary Clinton did not achieve their political success by holding rigid stances on questions of policy or philosophy. A kind way to describe their approach would be “flexible.”

When it comes to personal choices, however, they follow an ironclad rule: Ask forgiveness, not permission.

Consider Bill’s inappropriate conduct with the women who crossed his path while he was in office, his rental of the Lincoln Bedroom or his last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Look at Hillary’s deployment of a personal email server in place of the United States government’s official facilities, her failure to either adequately assess or accurately describe the threats that imperiled her staff in Benghazi or her personal trashing of Bill’s unofficial conquests amid his official duties. The thread is always the same: Being a Clinton means you do what you want and then deal with the consequences.

So of course, when the former president somehow became aware that the plane carrying Attorney General Loretta Lynch was parked somewhere near his own on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport, he felt free to just invite himself aboard. To the Clintons, if nobody actively stops you from doing something or puts you in jail when you try to do it, then it must have been legal when you did it. The action was perhaps regrettable, maybe even reprehensible, but legal – and, therefore, it should be forgiven and forgotten.

When the Big Dog wanted to scamper onto the attorney general’s plane, the FBI agents who were monitoring the aircraft did not stop him. So we hear from the unofficial official channels that leaked and confirmed the story of the unannounced meeting in the first place. Exactly how that meeting came about has not been disclosed.

Lynch, while offering her own regrets, left the impression that she was utterly surprised to find the country’s best-known snow-capped southern drawl on her official jet. Bill Clinton has, at this writing, said nothing at all about the incident. And his wife dourly remarked “Hindsight is 20/20” when questioned about both the ethics and the optics of her husband visiting the person in charge of deciding whether she would be indicted for her email misconduct. Sir, would you like me to wipe your email server with this cloth, now that I have finished wiping mine?

The Clintons are no mere political dynasty in the mold of the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Rockefellers or the Udalls, each of which had their own particular flavor of politics and policy but which shared a common commitment to the public good. The Clintons are an enterprise that provides steady and lucrative employment to the loyal help and extremely attractive return on investment to its owners. The Clintons’ stock in trade is the accumulation of power, and the granting or withholding of access to that power, in exchange for valuable consideration – current or future.

So maybe Lynch felt she was getting a bargain when Bill Clinton appeared for a free private audience; he normally charges around a quarter-million dollars a pop, even if he talks about nothing more than grandchildren and golf.

More likely, Lynch received the message that was obviously intended, loud and clear. Her public career began and flourished under Bill Clinton. During his presidency, she went from a line prosecutor to ultimately become the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, a post to which the Big Dog himself appointed her. She returned to that position in 2010 under President Obama, who appointed her to his cabinet to replace his close friend – and political enforcer – Eric Holder.

On that plane, Clinton might have told Lynch how grateful he and Hillary are to have the president’s endorsement, even as her department was concluding its investigation into Hillary’s handling of classified information on her home-brew server. He might have pointed out how pleased he and Hillary are to see how well Lynch has done in her public career. He might even have assured her that he will make her as welcome in the White House, if Hillary wins this election, as she made him feel aboard her government jet.

Did he ask Lynch directly for any favors regarding the current investigation? Only the people who were present know for certain, but I would guess not. Either way, Lynch claimed she would follow the recommendation of investigators, whatever that recommendation was; it turned out that the FBI, shocking no one, announced yesterday that while Hillary Clinton and her colleagues had behaved foolishly, they would not recommend the Justice Department bring any charges against the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The truth is, Bill Clinton did not need to ask the attorney general for any favors. When you’re the Big Dog, you only bark when you are provoked. Most of the time, you can go wherever you please and get anything you want just by showing how big you are.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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