Murdoch Media Reach For '90s Playbook: Criminalize The Clintons (Evidence Optional)

Hoping to create permanent criminal investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton's dealings -- reminiscent of the ones that hounded them in the 1990s -- conservative commentators employed by Rupert Murdoch have been demanding that the FBI or the Department of Justice open inquiries to determine if the Clintons are guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Their hook is the new Murdoch-published Clinton Cash book, which alleges wide-ranging misconduct by the Clintons and their global charity, the Clinton Foundation.

Hoping to take author Peter Schweizer's fantastic claims of foreign donors buying influence, Murdoch media voices at Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post and elsewhere want to create a churning culture of subpoenas, testimonies, and legal briefings, likely all in the hopes of catching somebody in a misstatement while under oath. Recall that the 1990's impeachment crusade surrounding president Bill Clinton's sex life grew out of special prosecutor Ken Starr's completely unrelated investigation into the Clintons' money-losing Whitewater land transaction.

A criminal probe sparked by Clinton Cash would be a dream come true for partisan media outlets.

“When you have a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is going get the nomination of her party, the FBI has a duty to, we the people, to investigate any appearance of impropriety. Does it not?” asked Bill O'Reilly this week. “The FBI has got to go in and look. They have to go in and look. If they don't, that's corrupt.”

The only problem for Murdoch's minions is they can't point to any evidence that even remotely indicates the Clintons broke the law via their foundation or foreign donations to it. The claims of bribery or quid pro quo deals are entirely flimsy, drowning in innuendo.  Instead, the Fox News-led posse is essentially demanding criminal investigations be launched in order to find the evidence first, and then proceed to political prosecutions. It's a bold attempt to criminalize politics.

That blueprint worked while Bill Clinton was president, so it's not surprising conservative media, working alongside Republicans, are trying to resurrect the strategy, hoping to create enough “foreign donation” hysteria to prompt some sort of inquiry.

“I think this warrants investigation,” Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer recently stressed to Fox News.

But again, the debunked book doesn't come close to delivering a plausible map for prosecutors to follow. Instead, Clinton Cash is a mishmash of allegations glued together by innuendo and falsehoods.

That hasn't stopped the choreographed calls for investigations; for publicly funded fishing expeditions designed to trip up the Clintons for years to come. And of course, the drum beat comes complete with claims that any failure to commence criminal inquiries represents a sprawling government effort to protect the prominent Democrats. It's a favorite tactic of conservative commentators: Prove you don't have a liberal bias by taking seriously our empty allegations.

“It is a double standard and it is quite remarkable and it is not an accident that the people who have been indicted or been hounded are ones who are adversaries of the Democratic administration or the Democratic Party,” Charles Krauthammer announced on Fox News this week.

Note that President Obama and Democrats have been subjected to similarly sustained, permanent attack inquiries in the form of Congressional Benghazi investigations. The fact that Republicans are summoning Hillary Clinton to testify again about Benghazi this month, nearly 30 months after she first answered questions at a Benghazi hearing, indicates how long-term these partisan tribunals can run. (Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out that the Benghazi investigation is “on track to last longer than the investigations of Iran-Contra, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate and 9/11, and it will squander more than $6 million in taxpayer funds in the process.”)

Now, Murdoch media outlets are trying to turn Clinton Cash into a brand; a self-sustaining scandal machine like the ones they built to distract Bill Clinton in the 1990s. It's a very old playbook.

“Strident House Republicans have been on one continual witch hunt since the 1994 takeover of the House,” The Atlantic's Michael Hirsh noted in 2012. Writing at the time about the endless Fast and Furious investigation sponsored by House Republicans, Hirsh noted the investigation was “more light than heat” and that Republicans have been playing that same hand for years:

We all remember the endless (and fruitless) Whitewater investigation and the Monicagate scandal that emerged from it, like the monster baby in the cult movie Eraserhead. But perhaps you have forgotten all the furor in the late '90s when, helped along by misleading reporting by The New York Times, Republicans on the Hill pursued an endlessly snowballing series of pseudo-scandals. 

The déjà vu demands to criminalize the Clintons continue today. “Is anyone at Justice or the FBI investigating the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton for accepting foreign donations while she was Secretary of State?” asked a Wall Street Journal editorial this week. “The foundation and the Clintons insist there isn't a 'shred' of evidence that these actions were illegal, but the facts certainly would seem to warrant an investigation,” the paper opined.

“I believe the Clinton Foundation story dwarfs all previous Clinton scandals because it appears to be an unprecedented case of foreign governments and entities buying influence with a U.S. government official,” wrote Fred Fleitz at "The Clinton Foundation scandal requires congressional hearings and an investigation by the Justice Department," he concluded.

On Fox News, Andrew Napolitano stressed that if Schweizer's claims hold up, “The Justice Department must commence a criminal investigation of Mrs. Clinton's behavior.”  

Elsewhere, Fox's James Rosen found two partisan Republican attorneys to quote regarding the need for criminal investigations into supposed Clinton bribery crimes and presented that tenuous analysis as news [emphasis added]:

With a sitting Democratic senator recently indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges, top criminal defense lawyers in the nation's capital say Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton could conceivably face similar scrutiny, amid mounting disclosures about the tangled finances of her family's philanthropic foundation.

As Clinton Cash fades in the rearview mirror, its political impact negligible at best, vocal Murdoch boosters are left demanding a criminal probe in search of a crime.