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The new American aristocracy

| Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The final scene of 2015’s “The Big Short” finds a melancholy Mark Baum, played by Steve Carell, telling his assistant Vincent Daniel, “Paulson and Bernanke just left the White House. There’s going to be a bailout.” Attempting to cheer up his boss, Daniel declares “at least we’ll see some of them go to jail. And they’re going to have to break up the banks.” Baum was skeptical, and rightfully so; Henry Paulson was the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and Lloyd Blankfein the current one. Unsurprisingly, Paulson bailed out his former company, and no Goldman executives and indeed no big bank executives, faced charges for their role in the crash. None of the banks were broken up. Though Senator Carl Levin pursued Blankfein on perjury charges, nothing stuck, and Blankfein remains CEO of Goldman Sachs. Coincidentally, Blankfein had visited the White House 14 times as of January 2013. In 2007, Blankfein donated $4,600 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, who has several times delivered mysterious $225,000 speeches to Goldman employees.

Why was Baum’s pessimism so accurate? Why does malfeasance, when done by someone with sufficient power, never seem to merit real punishment?  

When asked what “the decisive moment” that drove him to act was, Edward Snowden referred to a March 12, 2013 hearing of the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. In this hearing Senator Ron Wyden asked James Clapper “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

A brief pause: Clapper is the Director of National Intelligence. In that capacity, he serves as principal national advisor on matters of intelligence related security, leads the 16-memberUnited States Intelligence Community (including the CIA, FBI and NSA)  and reports exclusively to the President.

In response to Wyden’s question, Clapper looked directly at the Senator, and said “No, sir.”

Wyden asked for clarification, inquiring, “It does not?”

“Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly,” Clapper replied. Three months later The Guardian published the first documents released by Edward Snowden, documents revealing a top secret court order allowing the NSA to collect phone records from 120 million Americans. Clapper eventually issued an apology, claiming his falsehood was because he, head of the American security state, had forgotten the Patriot Act.

Let’s recap. The Director of National Intelligence, while under oath, while being filmed, while before a committee of the United States Senate, in response to direct questions from a United States Senator, lied to his face. Twice. Although James Clapper repeatedly perjured himself before the Senate, he remains in the same office, with the Obama administration rebuffing all calls for Clapper’s resignation, let alone his arrest.

While there is nothing new to say about Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, some details of the case are instructive. On numerous occasions, most significantly before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Mrs. Clinton declared she neither sent nor received anything marked classified on her private email. This was proven false by the FBI investigation, which found 113 emails containing classified information at the time they were sent from the Clinton account. As tensions over the investigation mounted, on June 27, 2016 Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General and the figure ultimately responsible for Hillary Clinton’s prosecution, met for 30 minutes with Bill Clinton, who is, surely incidentally, the man who appointed Ms. Lynch to her first position with the federal government. After the media discovered the furtive meeting, Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee she had a “social conversation” with Bill Clinton, and denied the conversation touched on Hillary’s investigation. Days later, the Justice Department closed the probe into Hillary’s server, following FBI Director James Comey’s refusal to recommend pressing charges against Clinton, who Comey stated was “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” How wonderful of the FBI, that notoriously clement organization, to extend to Ms. Clinton every possible benefit of the doubt.

We now live in a country with two sets of laws. The first, for commoners, is rigid, intrusive and enforced by a growing body of secret police agencies and covert tribunals. However, for those with a direct channel to the ever-growing levers of power controlled by the executive branch of the federal government, a second body of law exists, allowing our new aristocracy anything, even impunity to lie to Congress. This second law for the palace elites, can be summed up thus: If the hand that feeds you is sufficiently powerful, there is no excuse so ridiculous, no claim of ignorance or negligence so grotesque and no proof of guilt so damning that it will condemn you to that grossest of injustices, a speedy and public trial by a jury of your peers.

Devon Chenelle is a junior in Keough Hall. He is a history major with an Italian minor. He can be reached at dchenell@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Devon Chenelle

Devon Chenelle is a senior, formerly of Keough Hall. Returning to campus after seven months abroad, Devon is a history major with minors in Italian and Philosophy. He can be reached at dchenell@nd.edu - On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées.

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  • Brendan

    No reasonable person would pursue the same charges against the elite as they would against a civilian for a similar crime. It’s a good article but it is very depressing.