Former President Bill Clinton insisted Sunday his wife doesn’t deserve to be attacked by her fellow Democratic candidates for her relationship with Wall Street, as opponents on both sides of the aisle jumped to attack her defense of those ties.
“It is a stretch. Those of us who were there know that,” he told reporters gathered on the rope line after Hillary Clinton spoke Sunday at the Central Iowa Democrats' fall barbecue on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.
During Saturday’s Democratic debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley both piled onto the former secretary of state for taking millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the financial sector, and Clinton countered by talking about the bonds she forged with firms in lower Manhattan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked,” she said. “Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy. And it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
Her husband didn’t respond to questions about those comments, but her opponents didn’t let up on their jabs Sunday, arguing that she went too far in invoking the terror attacks to justify her ties to Wall Street.
Speaking at the same barbecue, O’Malley, who on Saturday night called the comments a “gaffe,” said Clinton “sadly invoked 9/11 to try to mask” the influence that Wall Street has had on her. “But she doesn’t have to mask it. It is what it is,” he said. “That is the sort of economy, that is the sort of economic advice that she would follow.”
After his remarks, O'Malley was asked whether Clinton should apologize for her 9/11 comments.
“My guess is she probably regrets it,” O'Malley responded, adding that Clinton's debate answer was a “very distasteful way trying to pump out a smoke screen for her coziness for the big banks of Wall Street by invoking the tragedy of 9/11 and those attacks especially so fresh after so many were murdered in Paris.”
Former Princeton professor Cornel West, speaking on behalf of Sanders, also cut into Clinton. “I was trying to help New York regroup after 9/11,” he said, invoking Clinton’s comments. “OK. Plausible but not persuasive.”
Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said her candidate’s remarks were an expression of fact and not an effort to deflect incoming criticism by invoking tragedy. “They were attacking her integrity for being too close to Wall Street and the point that she was making is as senator, she did things that were supportive of Wall Street, particularly after 9/11, but she also spoke out as senator, and now, when she thought they were going too far and pursuing reckless behavior,” she told Bloomberg.
Asked if there’s a perception that Clinton owes Wall Street donors favors in exchange for their campaign contributions, Palmieri responded, “I don’t.”
“There are people who have supported her, sometimes they agree with her on all things … and often they don't, but they appreciate how hard she works or they find other reasons why they want to support her,” she said. “I think it's pretty clear where she stands on issues and donations don't play a role in how she's going to come down on an issue.”