You get your story and you stick to it. That, of course, is a basic defense strategy, and boy has Peter Schweizer ever got his down.
Yesterday, again and again, George Stephanopoulos assailed the author of Clinton Cash with prosecutorial zeal (there's no "This Week" transcript yet, but here is both a recap and video), demanding to know where the Clinton corruption-favoritism story is in the absence of a "smoking gun." And again and again, Schweizer came back with a roundly tautological yet unshakable defense: "the smoking gun is in the pattern of behavior," which "warrants further investigation because … this is part of the broader pattern," which, as noted, is the smoking gun.
Schweizer is good. He's really good. I had no idea just how good he is until I watched him perform yesterday. He has all the glibness of a Clintonite hack — a kind of pit-bullish Sean Hannity without visible fangs — which somewhat evens the opposing forces. He's aggressive but cool, reserved but determined, unflappable.
All this came through as Stephanopoulos' prosecution lunged, creaked, and ultimately failed. Not only could the host not shake Schweizer's defense, at one point he had to surrender on the charge that some donations to the Clinton Foundation violated its White House agreement. "That is an issue for them," Stephanopoulos allowed, "but it’s nothing that would warrant a criminal investigation." In politics, when you find yourself denying criminality, you've lost; indeed, you've scooped the first chunk of dirt from your hole.
None of this is to argue that Schweizer proved his case yesterday, or that he'll be able to prove it tomorrow. He can't, and he knows it. But that's the beauty of it. What he's selling is honorable "appearances" betrayed, and there, Schweizer leaves his role as defendant and becomes the righteous prosecutor. In the public arena, he needs no smoking gun.
Well before the Watergate tapes vividly told the sordid story of Dick Nixon's obstruction of justice, appearances alone had him cornered. Although one finally arrived, Democrats needed no smoking gun to successfully portray Nixon as a devious, manipulative malefactor. His past behavior and ethical lapses had already done that for them. Prior to the tapes' release, evidence surrounded the 37th president, but it failed to condemn him. In the eyes of the body politic, however, further evidence was superfluous. Dick Nixon was a crook, and just about everyone knew it.
Working on the Watergate investigation was a young Hillary Clinton, who now (or rather again) has her own appearances problem. Metaphorically, the older Hillary took Pat Buchanan's advice: "Burn the tapes." There may have been nothing incriminating on her private server in connection to her foundation's donations, but her erasure of that server has left yet another dot in a dark constellation of questionable appearances — and yesterday, on both "This Week" and "Meet the Press," those questions were flying. Time magazine's Mark Halperin, New York Magazine's John Heilemann and the NYT's Helene Cooper all referenced Hillary's "appearances" as — you got it — a pattern of behavior which warrants further investigation. They were making Schweizer's case for him.
Their fallback position — and this is merely a fact of political life, dubious or not, like it or not — is, and shall remain, that if Nixon's appearances were enough to corner him, Hillary's are too.