A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Spin from Clinton Surrogates


Two of Hillary Clinton’s high-profile surrogates made false and misleading claims on the Sunday talk shows the day after she officially kicked off her campaign:

  • Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said that “no poll shows that voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton.” That’s false. At least two recent polls, one conducted by CNN and one jointly by the Washington Post and ABC News, found that a majority did not find Clinton to be “honest and trustworthy.”
  • Bill Clinton claimed “we didn’t have a commerce secretary” for “much of the time” his wife was secretary of state, so she did economic diplomacy work that nobody was doing. In fact, for most of her time in office — 36 of 48 months — there was a Senate-confirmed commerce secretary on the job.

Trust in Clinton

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mook flat-out rejected host John Dickerson’s claim that “polls have shown” that “voters do not trust” Hillary Clinton.

Dickerson, June 14: Here’s the question that — when I talk to Democratic strategists, people who even are anxious for her to be president. They say she can list a lot of things. The biggest problem for her is trust. The voters in the polls have shown this. Voters do not trust her. How does she overcome that?

Mook: Well, first of all, there — no poll shows that voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton.

Dickerson: They don’t find her honest and trustworthy.

Mook: Well, no poll says that.

But Mook is wrong.

A Washington Post/ABC News national poll published on June 3 found that 52 percent of all adults, and 56 percent of registered voters, answered “no” when asked if Clinton was “honest and trustworthy.” Just 41 percent of all adults, and 38 percent of registered voters, said that she was. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Langer Research Associates, which produced the poll, noted that Clinton’s ratings for honesty and trust had declined significantly since about this time last year.

Langer Research Associates, June 2: Perhaps most alarmingly for her campaign, the number who see Clinton as honest and trustworthy has dropped from 53 percent a year ago, then 46 percent two months ago, to 41 percent now. Fifty-two percent now don’t see her as honest and trustworthy, the most, again, since April 2008.

A CNN-ORC International survey from late May produced similar results.

In that poll, 57 percent of those asked said that “honest and trustworthy” are not characteristics that apply to Clinton. And only 42 percent said they did apply to her. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The percentage who didn’t find Clinton “honest and trustworthy” was up 8 percentage points from March of this year and up 14 points since March 2014.

Mook argued that “the central question in this race is whether voters can trust Hillary Clinton to be a tenacious fighter for them, to go to bat for them, to push back on the stacked deck that has kept the middle class behind.”

“And the answer to that is overwhelmingly yes,” he said.

Neither poll asked the question that Mook posed. However, they did ask if Clinton “understands the problems of people like you” and “cares about people like you.” We’ll note that the answers were not “overwhelmingly yes.”

In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 49 percent of all adults, and 47 percent of registered voters, said that Clinton understands their problems. On the other hand, 46 percent of all adults, and 50 percent of registered voters, said that she did not.

In the CNN-ORC International poll, 52 percent of respondents said that “cares about people like you” is not a characteristic that applies to Clinton, while 47 percent felt that it did apply.

No Commerce Secretary?

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Bill Clinton made his remarks about the commerce secretary and economic diplomacy when asked if any contributors to the Clinton Foundation sought favors from the State Department. He said he did not know.

Bill Clinton, June 14: But I will say this. She believed — and I did too. I did the same thing when I was president. She believed that part of the [job of the] secretary of state was to advance America’s economic interests around the world and for much of the time she was secretary, for a number of complex reasons, we didn’t have a commerce secretary. Now we’ve got Penny Pritzker and she’s very vigorous and very good, I think. But we didn’t have one. If she hadn’t been doing this economic diplomacy work, nobody would have been doing this.

The fact is that for much of the time there was a Senate-confirmed commerce secretary during Hillary Clinton’s four years in office.

Hillary Clinton headed the State Department for about 48 months, from Jan. 21, 2009, to Feb. 1, 2013. For 36 of those 48 months, Gary Locke and John Bryson served as commerce secretaries. Gary Locke served from March 26, 2009, to Aug. 1, 2011. John Bryson served from Oct. 21, 2011, until June 11, 2012, before officially resigning for health reasons on June 21, 2012. (He was involved in two car accidents June 9 after suffering a seizure.)

Before Locke took office, Otto Wolf served as acting secretary for a little more than two months, from Jan. 21, 2009, to March 26, 2009. After Locke resigned, Rebecca Blank served as the acting secretary for nearly three months, from Aug. 1, 2011, to Oct. 21, 2011. Blank also served as acting commerce secretary after Bryson took a leave of absence, and she remained as acting secretary after he resigned. In all, Wolf and Blank served in an acting capacity for about 12 of the 48 months that Hillary Clinton was in office. That’s not “much of the time”; that’s some of the time.

As for Clinton using her office “to advance America’s economic interests around the world,” as her husband put it, the State Department has long been involved in economic diplomacy.

In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice created an advisory board to make recommendations on how to “transform the Department of State.” In a 2007 report, the 17-member panel — which included Carly Fiorina, who is now a Republican presidential candidate — recommended elevating economic diplomacy.

The Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy, 2007: Maintaining U.S. leadership in a rapidly growing and “flattening” global economy will be one of the pre-eminent challenges for U.S. diplomacy in the 21st century. The Department of State must increase its focus on economic diplomacy, bolster its capabilities in this area, and bring a forward-looking, strategic unity to USG foreign economic and development policy.

Under Clinton, the State Department did elevate economic diplomacy. On Feb. 16, 2012, Clinton announced an initiative she called “Economic Statecraft.” Among other things, the department created a new position called the under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment.

But the initiative, which came in her final 12 months in office, was launched while Bryson was serving as commerce secretary. In fact, Bryson addressed the first-ever State Department Global Business Conference, which was Feb. 21-22, 2012.

So Hillary Clinton was involved in economic diplomacy and even elevated it, but it’s not accurate to say that the Obama administration “didn’t have a commerce secretary” for “much of the time” that Clinton was at the State Department or that she did economic diplomacy alone.

— D’Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely