Matthews compared Sen. Clinton's futures trading to Rep. Jefferson's indictment

On the June 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews -- in yet another segment dedicated largely to the presidential prospects of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- compared Clinton's profitable commodities investments in the late 1970s to the allegations against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), who was indicted June 4 on charges of accepting bribes, racketeering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Referring to what he described as “the $100,000 she made in cattle futures,” Matthews asserted, “I'm still mystified how you can pick up 100K in a field you know nothing about,” before adding, “Bill Jefferson is probably going to federal prison for $100,000.” National Journal's Linda Douglass responded that the charge that Clinton's commodities trading was unlawful was “something that was debunked during [Bill Clinton's] presidency” and that it “was never proved to be a crime or not a crime.” Matthews said, “Well, it is found money. Let's put it that way, found money.” In fact, even former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth, who first reported in 1994 on Clinton's commodities earnings, and co-author Don Van Natta Jr., acknowledge in Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), that “there was never any official finding that Hillary had done anything wrong” in the commodities trading deal.

Gerth broke the commodities trading story in a highly misleading March 18, 1994, New York Times article in which he reported that Hillary Clinton “made about $100,000 in one year in the commodities market with the help and advice of a friend who was the top lawyer for one of the state's most powerful and heavily regulated companies.” However, in Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta note on Page 76 that she was never found to have committed any wrongdoing:

While disengaged, Hillary was remarkably successful. In the end, over a period of nine months, Hillary parlayed her $1,000 into almost $100,000, and outstanding though not unprecedented run. (When people hit it big in commodities bets, they can really hit it big.) Her trading profits in 1978 and 1979 were duly reported on the Clintons' tax returns, and there was never any official finding that Hillary had done anything wrong.

For the assertion that Clinton's profit was “outstanding though not unprecedented,” Gerth and Van Natta cited former chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Leo Melamed's April 11, 1994, statement released by the White House. A July 11, 1994, report in Pensions and Investments included a longer excerpt of Melamed's statement:

At the request of the White House, I have examined the records which reflect Mrs. Clinton's trading activity at Refco. It is my considered opinion that unless there are additional records to indicate otherwise, this is a tempest in a teapot. Nothing in these records appears to reflect any trading violations on the part of Mrs. Clinton. ...

What these records show is that Mrs. Clinton was, during 1978 and 1979, a relatively modest trader who traded in a variety of commodities, including cattle, soybeans and hogs. ... (O)n balance, she did extremely well. This was by no means unprecedented at that time. ... Mrs. Clinton's profit, while substantial in every day life, was minuscule when measured against the background of that market era.

Portions of Melamed's statement were also noted by Time.

By contrast, Jefferson's indictment alleged extensive wrongdoing on his part, as The Washington Post reported June 5:

Federal authorities accused Rep. William J. Jefferson yesterday of using his congressional office and staff to enrich himself and his family, charging the Louisiana Democrat with offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support business ventures in the United States and several West African nations.

The 16-count indictment also accused Jefferson, a former co-chairman of congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade, of racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury and capped a long and tumultuous FBI investigation.

The grand jury said Jefferson, 60, had solicited a bribe for himself and family members in a congressional dining room, falsely reported trips to Africa as official business, sought to corrupt a senior Nigerian politician and promoted U.S. financing for a sugar factory in Nigeria whose owner paid fees to a Jefferson family company in his home state.

The indictment said that at one point, Jefferson drove in his Lincoln Town Car through the streets of Arlington with $100,000 in marked FBI bills meant for a top Nigerian official whose assistance Jefferson needed for a business venture. The lawmaker allegedly stowed $90,000 in his home freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and concealed inside frozen-food containers.

Matthews brought up Clinton's futures trading during a segment on her likability ratings. Matthews cited a Gallup poll taken June 1-3 that found 46 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Clinton while 50 percent had an unfavorable one. He went on to ask, "[W]hy do so many people not like her?" Matthews posed several other heavily loaded questions, including “Do people think she is honest?” and “Is it people think she thinks she is better than us? Just guessing here.”

Later, Matthews asked if Vice President Dick Cheney “is hated as much as Hillary,” adding, “I don't know. Maybe he only has, like, 23 percent popularity.” NBC News political director Chuck Todd corrected Matthews, noting that Cheney “is hated more than Hillary.” Indeed, a Gallup poll taken February 9-11 found Cheney's favorability rating to be 37 percent, compared to 58 percent who held an unfavorable opinion of him. A more recent New York Times/CBS News poll, taken May 18-23, found that 13 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Cheney, compared to 39 percent unfavorable; 47 percent were categorized as “undecided” or “haven't heard enough.”

Still later in the program, Matthews asserted, “Every time I talked to somebody, they have a problem with her -- male, female, mostly female. I cannot figure it out.” Douglass asserted, “And yet she has a lot of support from women. That really is her base.” Matthews responded, “Not in the chattering class I hang around with.” But contrary to the chatter among the “class” Matthews hangs around with, a June 12 Washington Post article describing a newly released Washington Post-ABC News poll began by asserting that Clinton's strength in the Democratic primary “is due largely to one factor: her support from women.” From the article:

In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Clinton led [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] by a 2 to 1 margin among female voters. Her 15-point lead in the poll is entirely attributable to that margin. Clinton drew support from 51 percent of the women surveyed, compared with 24 percent who said they supported Obama and 11 percent who said they backed former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

From the June 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Can you really help me digest why it is that people don't like her? A lot of people do like her. But why do so many people not like her? What is the not like about? You say it is her gender.

DOUGLASS: I think that's part of it. I think the fact that she's been on the defensive --

MATTHEWS: But, people do not dislike [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]. They don't dislike -- I mean, there are other people who have been out there politically, not a whole lot, I admit. You know, [Gov.] Jennifer Granholm [D] in Michigan, although she had a very tricky re-election.

DOUGLASS: You're right. Not a whole lot.

MATTHEWS: [Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison [R] in Texas, very popular.

DOUGLASS: [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA].

MATTHEWS: Now, maybe they haven't gone for the brass ring. Nancy Pelosi, of course, but what is it about -- is it just -- well, what is it? Is it people think she thinks she is better than us? Just guessing here.

DOUGLASS: Well, that is a guess. That certainly is a guess that many people would make, because she has been pushing back a lot. She's a -- she's a fighter. And, again, she has been on the defensive, and she's been --

MATTHEWS: Do people think she is honest?

DOUGLASS: Well, I think that certainly --

MATTHEWS: I mean like - candid's the word.

DOUGLASS: The Clinton team, whether fair or not, has been accused of being -- having an ethical tin ear throughout the Clinton governorship --

MATTHEWS: You mean the $100,000 she made in cattle futures?

DOUGLASS: Which was something that was debunked during the president's --


DOUGLASS: -- presidency, at least --

MATTHEWS: How was it debunked? I'm still mystified how you can pick up 100K in a field you know nothing about.

DOUGLASS: Well, certainly they thought they debunked it. It went away. I would predict it is going to come back, by the way.

MATTHEWS: I think it's all a question --

DOUGLASS: I would predict also --

MATTHEWS: That's a lot of cash.

DOUGLASS: But, I would also predict that the Mark Rich pardon is going to come back to haunt Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS: Bill Jefferson is probably going to federal prison for $100,000.

DOUGLASS: Well, and the cattle futures, again, was never proved to be a crime or not a crime. It was certainly an issue that will be revisited.

MATTHEWS: Well, it is found money. Let's put it that way, found money.

DOUGLASS: That every other one of the things that was thrown at the Clintons, some of which -- what $70 million was spent investigating Whitewater, and it turned out to be nothing.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know.

DOUGLASS: You know a lot of that stuff turned out to be nothing, but it will all come back. And that is why many Democrats are worried about her.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Chuck, about this. Is this the -- you know, Dick Cheney gets away with secrecy. He won't let people even know who visits at the White House -- at the vice presidential residence. He certainly won't let anybody know who helped him with energy policy, although you can assume they're all oil patch guys and the gas people. Right?

But he doesn't -- maybe he is hated as much as Hillary? I don't know. Maybe he only has like 23 percent popularity. Maybe they're both guilty of the same --

TODD: I think he's hated more than -- than -- Hillary.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about it. What is -- is it secrecy, is -- is it -- superiority?

TODD: Linda is working for the second-best company in town, National Journal, as opposed to here at -- NBC.

MATTHEWS: No, we're working together.

TODD: Exactly, we're together. Look, I think she's -- she's -- polarizing. Unpopular I think is the wrong word. I think it's -- I think some of it is fatigue. I think some of her unfavorability rating is not about hating or about her. I think it's fatigue of the Clinton name and fatigue of Bush. I think some of Bush's unpopularity is rubbing a little bit off on her, and that is something that I think that they worry about.


MATTHEWS: Every time I talked to somebody, they have a problem with her, male, female, mostly female. I cannot figure it out.

TODD: Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has an opinion about her.

MATTHEWS: I look at these polls, and she's leading in all the polls.

DOUGLASS: And yet she has a lot of support from women. That really is her base. It mean, hasn't that been her base throughout this campaign?

TODD: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Not in the chattering class I hang around with.