When there’s no transparency, we see what we want to see

Transparency. A big word going around that doesn’t fit either presidential candidate.

Transparency means the quality that makes something obvious or easy to understand. Now you can see why it doesn’t fit either.

I’ve been over-obsessed with Donald Trump in this space for the last year — with good reason. But that doesn’t mean Hillary Clinton is without her significant faults. And transparency is maybe the biggest one.

She is viewed as dishonest by a majority of the voters and the only reason she doesn’t look as bad as she should is because Trump weighs in even lower on the honesty scale with voters. As I’ve said before, Trump is the only candidate Clinton can beat and Clinton is the only one he can beat.

With Mrs. Clinton there is, for starters, the Clinton Foundation which by its nature is going to be looked at with a close eye because where there’s big money and a politician (in this case two) one looks for games to be played. Clearly, as the Clintons claim, the Foundation does a lot of good around the world.

And, just as clearly, it raises questions about the big-dollar donations from individuals, governments and corporations and what access, if any, that meant with then-secretary of state Clinton and what it could mean if there is another President Clinton.

Emails from the State Department while she was secretary showed that big donors often sought meetings and other things from her department. Those emails also show that many of the meetings requested were granted. They also disclose that many of the requests for things — visas, for example — were not granted.

The Foundation has said it will change its ways if she becomes president which is terrific but there are those who say it should have changed its ways before and definitely should change now as she runs for the highest office. Have there been illegal conflicts of interest? That’s for law enforcement to allege and a court of law to determine. Have there been appearances of conflicts of interest? Oh, yes. And that’s for the court of public opinion to say. And it shows in her trust deficit.

When I was on the staff of a cabinet member we’d get calls from friends or party for meetings. If it made sense to do the meetings, we did. Not because of the money but because of the topic and if there were schedule openings. Would it look like that to an outsider? Probably not. And, for sure, no one got anything just because they were a donor or friend. Would it look that way to the public? Probably not. Especially in the eyes of someone looking for a conspiracy.

That’s why the measurement in public office is really the “appearance of a conflict of interest.” That’s a higher bar in many ways and a necessarily high bar if the public is to trust its elected and appointed officials.

Another area of lack of transparency for Mrs. Clinton is that she has not held a press conference in nearly 10 months. I get why. She’d be inundated with email questions, especially now that there is a new trove of emails and we don’t know what’s in them. Not to mention the Foundation questions. That press conference could last for hours if she let it.

My guess is she can handle the questions but does not want a live broadcast of a news conference with hundreds of reporters pounding her with questions, legitimate and not legitimate. Still, we expect our politicians to make themselves available for press conferences, especially those running for President of the United States. If she can’t defend it, she probably shouldn’t have done it.

Sure, as her campaign manager says she’s answered questions but that’s mostly to regional press or answering on the fly or maybe one on one on TV. All good. But not like a press conference. She did undergo hours of questioning before a congressional committee on Benghzi and withstood the pressure and questions well. We know she can do it. There’s no question she’s one tough woman. But she’s also one very careful woman, with good reason, and she brings a lot of that on herself.

So, do it, Mrs. Clinton. Just as Donald Trump needs to release his taxes and start showing the transparency we expect from a presidential candidate, you should hold a press conference and be held accountable for the foundation and the emails. I know you’ve answered many of those questions already. Answer them again. Put the transparency argument to bed.

When there is no transparency, we get to see what we want to see — not necessarily what the truth is.

Plus, no matter which of the two wins the election — we’ll want even more transparency when they are sitting in the White House. May as well get used to it now.

Written by

Former deputy White House press secretary (Reagan and Bush 41) and former head of communications at Republican Natl Committee. My blog: bjaycooper.com.

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