Clinton should release speeches

Alittle less than a week ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked at a debate in Durham if she would release transcripts of speeches she has been paid to give since leaving the State Department.

"I will certainly look into it," Clinton said.

Clinton’s answer came across as a dodge – the equivalent of a parent telling a child, "We’ll see."

She should release the transcripts, and she should release them now.

There is value in knowing what Clinton said behind closed doors to executives from groups like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and other corporations for which she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees. For one thing, it’s a chance for the public to see how her presumably private remarks square with her public pronouncements.

It’s doubly important in the case of Clinton – a presidential candidate for whom trust and character are recurring issues – for voters to be able to evaluate whether she says one thing to voters and something else entirely to those to whom she is paid to speak, including some Wall Street investment banks.

It appears to be in her power to do so.

According to the website BuzzFeed, Clinton’s speaking contracts with two public universities – which were obtained under 2014 freedom of information requests – spelled out explicitly that she retained ownership of the contents of her speeches and the transcripts that were made by a stenographer at the time she gave them.

Since she owns the transcripts, she could probably make them public tomorrow if she wanted. She’s certainly had plenty of time to consider the matter. The Washington Post requested the transcripts on Jan. 24.

Her failure to release them makes it look like she has something to hide. People assumed the same thing when Richard Nixon refused to turn over the Watergate tapes, and – as it turned out – he was hiding something.

In Clinton’s case, it may be that there is nothing of import to be found in the transcripts. But keeping them under wraps only fans the flames of doubt and distrust for a candidate who is already the target of an FBI investigation and doesn’t need any more questions raised on that front.

One of the points Clinton has made repeatedly in debates is that she might be the most well-vetted candidate in history. She has been in the public eye for decades now, and she may think she has been sufficiently transparent already and that there is no need for her to release the contents of her speeches.

Comments from her pollster, Joel Benenson, support that view. "I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches," he told reporters last week.

That may be true.

But it is also true that voters tend to reserve for themselves the right to determine what they are interested in, and they have a funny way of deciding for themselves whether a candidate has been sufficiently forthcoming.