What Clinton really thinks about Wall Street

Hillary Clinton has a complicated relationship with the Wall Street banks that nearly wrecked the global economy in 2008.

On one hand, it was her job to look out for their interests from 2001 to 2009 when she was a New York senator. Megabanks were some of the biggest employers in her state, and like any senator, she looked out for the interests of these big companies.

But the banks also messed up big, which ultimately subjected them to the heavy-handed Dodd-Frank reforms, which became law in 2010. Clinton had left the Senate by then to become Secretary of State, so she never voted on the law. But during the 2016 primary elections, this year’s Democratic presidential nominee took relentless flak from Bernie Sanders for being too cozy with Wall Street and accepting millions of dollars in fees for speaking to financial firms after she became a private citizen in 2013. Such attacks from the left forced Clinton to sharpen her criticism of Wall Street and promise a new crackdown on banks, if elected president.

[Related: Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs will bore you to death.]

So which is she? Newly converted bank-basher? Or Wall Street apologist in populist disguise?

Newly leaked documents allow ordinary people to decide for themselves. Wikileaks recently published transcripts of three “off the record” speeches Clinton gave at events sponsored by Goldman Sachs, the titan of the Wall Street banks. In a talk given in New York on October 24, 2013, Clinton gave perhaps the most detailed explanation on record regarding her view of Wall Street regulation. She essentially took no stand, saying something had to be done after the 2008 wipeout, but also acknowledging that political posturing may have produced an suboptimal result. Here are Clinton’s exact words; decide for yourself:

Question: “Since 2008, there’s been an awful lot of seismic activity around Wall Street and the big banks and regulators and politicians … What would be your advice to the Wall Street community and the big banks as to the way forward?”

Hillary Clinton: Well, I represented all of you for eight years. I had great relations and worked so close together after 9/11 to rebuild downtown, and a lot of respect for the work you do and the people who do it, but I do—I think that when we talk about the regulators and the politicians, the economic consequences of bad decisions back in ’08, you know, were devastating, and they had repercussions throughout the world.

[Related: What Hillary Clinton really thinks about gridlock in Washington.]

That was one of the reasons that I started traveling in February of ’09, so people could, you know, literally yell at me for the United States and our banking system causing this everywhere. Now, that’s an oversimplification, we know, but it was the conventional wisdom.

And I think that there’s a lot that could have been avoided in terms of both misunderstanding and really politicizing what happened with greater transparency, with greater openness on all sides, you know, what happened, how did it happen, how do we prevent it from happening? You guys help us figure it out, and let’s make sure that we do it right this time.

And I think that everybody was desperately trying to fend off the worst effects institutionally, governmentally, and there just wasn’t that opportunity to try to sort this out, and that came later.

I mean, it’s still happening, as you know. People are looking back and trying to, you know, get compensation for bad mortgages and all the rest of it in some of the agreements that are being reached.

There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry.

And I think there has to be a recognition that, you know, there’s so much at stake now, I mean, the business has changed so much and decisions are made so quickly, in nanoseconds basically. We spend trillions of dollars to travel around the world, but it’s in everybody’s interest that we have a better framework, and not just for the United States but for the entire world, in which to operate and trade.

You know, I remember having a long conversation with Warren Buffett, who is obviously a friend of mine, but I think he’s the greatest investor of our modern era, and he said, you know, I would go and I’d talk to my friends and I’d ask them to explain to me what a default credit swap was, and by the time they got into their fifth minute, I had no idea what they were talking about. And when they got into their tenth minute, I realized they didn’t have any idea what they were talking about.

I mean, Alan Greenspan said, I didn’t understand at all what they were trading. So I think it’s in everybody’s interest to get back to a better transparent model.

And we need banking. I mean, right now, there are so many places in our country where the banks are not doing what they need to do because they’re scared of regulations, they’re scared of the other shoe dropping, they’re just plain scared, so credit is not flowing the way it needs to to restart economic growth.

So people are, you know, a little—they’re still uncertain, and they’re uncertain both because they don’t know what might come next in terms of regulations, but they’re also uncertain because of changes in a global economy that we’re only beginning to take hold of.

So first and foremost, more transparency, more openness, you know, trying to figure out, we’re all in this together, how we keep this incredible economic engine in this country going. And this is, you know, the nerves, the spinal column.

And with political people, again, I would say the same thing, you know, there was a lot of complaining about Dodd-Frank, but there was also a need to do something, because for political reasons, if you were an elected member of Congress and people in your constituency were losing jobs and shutting businesses and everybody in the press is saying it’s all the fault of Wall Street, you can’t sit idly by and do nothing, but what you do is really important.

And I think the jury is still out on that because it was very difficult to sort through it all.

And, of course, I don’t, you know, I know that banks and others were worried about continued liability and other problems down the road, so it would be better if we could have had a more open exchange about what we needed to do to fix what had broken and then try to make sure it didn’t happen again, but we will keep working on it.”

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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