On the eve of the first presidential debate, a broadcast event moderated by NBC News’ Lester Holt that’s expected to attract as many as 100 million viewers, John Oliver returned to his Last Week Tonight hosting duties after a month-long hiatus (and one big Emmy win).
There was, of course, a lot for the comedian to unpack on Sunday night’s edition of his acclaimed HBO series, so Oliver chose to dedicate the meat of his program to the 2016 election, or as he called it: “The electoral equivalent of seeing someone puking so you start puking and then someone else is puking and pretty soon everyone is puking 2016.”
Oliver took it upon himself to inform the voting masses about the two scandal-ridden candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, by running down all of their alleged scandals.
First came Hillary. “I do know that even talking about her scandals will irritate some of you, given that her opponent is an unambiguously racist scarecrow stuffed with scrunched-up copies of Jugs magazine, and that’s fair,” said Oliver. “But not being as bad as Donald Trump is a low bar to clear, and if you focus on nothing but him, you fail to vet a woman who might be president.”
The British political satirist then ran down the list of Hillary’s so-called scandals, many of which have already been “heavily litigated” in the past.
“For instance: Whitewater. More than six years of investigations by three different prosecutors and multiple committees failed to find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing,” offered Oliver. “Then there was Benghazi: Now, eight congressional investigations broadly concluded the State Department could have done more to increase security at the embassy but none found evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton. And then there is the problematic issue of the Swiss File Transfer, and while, yes, investigators found that Hillary was in Zurich at the time of the transfer, and documents show she was aware the transfer took place, and yes, the Clintons did have something to gain financially from it, the fact is the Swiss File Transfer is something I just made up right now, but the very fact that for a second you kind of remembered it says something about the tone of coverage surrounding Clinton.”
But the two big current scandals surrounding Clinton concern emailgate (or that Hillary used an unsecure private server to transmit classified information as secretary of state) and the Clinton Foundation pay-for-play allegations. Oliver found that these two scandals were pretty overblown.
“The FBI found 113 such emails [sent by Hillary that were classified in nature], though in fairness, only three of them had classification markers and were not in the header of the email as they should have been. And while the FBI found Clinton and her staff to be ‘extremely careless,’ they said they couldn’t ‘find a case that would support bringing criminal charges.’ So it’s not good, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Oliver said of Clinton’s email scandal.
As far the Clinton Foundation, which has “helped millions around the world access lower-cost HIV treatment,” Oliver and his crack team of researchers went through the only seemingly legitimate allegation against the foundation—that the State Department approved the sale of a uranium mine to Putin’s Russia as a key player in the deal made four separate donations to the Clinton Foundation totaling $2.35 million.
“Not only was Hillary not involved in that decision,” said Oliver, “but eight other federal agencies—plus the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—also had to sign off, which they did. So this donation was legal, but very annoyingly handled. Any suggestion of pay-for-play fails to account for the separate actions of nine unrelated government agencies.”“We’ve spent several frustrating weeks trolling through all the innuendo and exaggerations surrounding [Hillary’s] email and foundation scandals, and the worst thing you can say is: They both look bad, but the harder you look, the less you actually find,” continued Oliver. “There’s not nothing there; what is there is irritating rather than grossly nefarious. And this is where it’s instructive to compare her to her opponent: Donald Trump, America’s wealthiest hemorrhoid.”Oliver added: “He’s quantifiably worse.”
First, as far as honesty goes, Oliver cited PolitiFact, which found that 13 percent of Hillary’s statements were flatly false throughout the course of the campaign, compared to 53 percent of Trump’s. Then there’s the issue of Trump’s taxes, which unlike his opponent, he has thus far refused to release—an unprecedented move among recent POTUS candidates.
“Bear in mind: We know nothing about Trump’s finances, and that is not good. He’s the first major party nominee since 1980 not to release his tax returns, and his justification is pathetic,” said Oliver, referencing Trump’s lame excuse that he can’t release his returns because they’re currently under audit (the IRS has explicitly said he still can release them).“On top of Trump’s personal tax records, there are unanswered questions about his business dealings,” added Oliver. “As many experts have pointed out, his investments, debts, and business ties span the globe and could present unprecedented ethical challenges for a president.”
First, Trump has claimed that he wouldn’t place his financial holdings in a “blind trust”—instead stating time and again that his various companies would be run by his children, whom he’d undoubtedly have regular contact and communication with.
Then there is the matter of the Trump Foundation. “If the financial actions of the Clinton Foundation annoy you, let me introduce you to the Trump Foundation,” cracked Oliver.
The Washington Post’s investigations have found, among other things, that: Trump has not given any of his personal money to the foundation since 2008; that the foundation spent a quarter of a million dollars in donor money to settle lawsuits against Trump businesses; and that Trump used foundation money to purchase ridiculous items for himself—like $10,000 at a charity auction in 2014 for a Trump portrait painting (the second time he’d used charity funds to purchase a portrait of himself), as well as $12,000 for a signed Tim Tebow helmet. Trump’s foundation also donated $25,000 to Florida AG Pam Bondi around the time she was considering investigating Trump University.
“The thing is, we have barely scratched the surface of [Trump’s] scandals,” said Oliver, running out of time. “There is everything, from the ongoing lawsuits against that bullshit university, to the alleged use of undocumented workers when building Trump Tower, to the fact that he received an illegal $3.5 million loan from his father in the form of a purchase of chips from one of Trump’s casinos.”“The point is, this campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think there is an equal number on both sides,” he concluded. “You can be irritated by some of Hillary’s—that is understandable—but you should then be fucking outraged by Trump’s…He is ethically compromised to an almost unprecedented degree.”