Stephanopoulos Spins Clinton Cayman Connection: Nothing to See Here

On Thursday's "Good Morning America," investigative reporter Brian Ross provided a refreshingly thorough look into the failure of Bill and Hillary Clinton to release their tax records and to the fact that, despite Hillary Clinton's railing against how the wealthy misuse the tax code, the power couple have investments in off shore locations such as the Cayman Islands.

Unsurprisingly, "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos, a former top Clinton operative, appeared after the segment to perform his old duty of defending his ex-employers. As though he was back on the podium talking to the White House press corps, Stephanopoulos first acknowledged that this could be a "distraction" for Hillary Clinton's campaign. He then went into defense mode and regurgitated that the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't think this is "going to be a bombshell." Without providing any specifics, he spun, "...The bottom line will show that the Clintons did pay their fair share of taxes. They didn't try to evade taxation in any way and that they also gave a fair amount to charity." Of course, no one, certainly not Ross in his report, had mentioned charitable giving. Apparently, Stephanopoulos just felt the need to mention something positive.

Ross's piece was fairly hard-hitting in its analysis of the Clintons failure to release their tax records. The investigative journalist noted, "On the campaign trail, Senator Clinton has promised to end tax breaks for the rich." He then went on to describe Bill Clinton's holdings in an investment fund registered in the Cayman Islands. The political power couple, who have made over $50 million since leaving the White House, have pledged to make their tax records public in the next few weeks. According to Ross, this will "answer a lot of questions about how they made so much and whether they paid their taxes like average Americans or the like the super rich they have become."

Tax attorney Jack Blum was even more harsh. He derided Bill Clinton's association with Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle and the $20 million payout he will receive for simply advising Burkle's investment funds. According to Blum, the former commander in chief is "selling the presidency." Blum fumed, "It's also attracting rich investors who think, 'Well, I'll get close to Bill Clinton if I buy into that fund.' He's selling his charm and ability to get other people to buy in."

So, while ABC and Brian Ross should be commended for actually providing an in depth look into the Clintons and their Cayman Island holdings, (NBC and CBS have done no such investigation), no one should be surprised by Stephanopoulos's quick defense of his old boss.

Ross, it should be pointed out, also investigated Senator Barack Obama and the controversial comments made by his former preacher, Jeremiah Wright.

A transcript of the April 3 segment, which aired at 7:11am, follows:

7:01am tease

ROBIN ROBERTS: And it is-- Don't have to tell you. It's tax time. Everybody, even the politicians. So, the Clintons have made millions since leaving the White House, what will their tax records show? Brian Ross is here with his investigation.

7:11am

CHRIS CUOMO: Now to the race for '08. Senator Barack Obama released his tax returns months ago and has been pressing Senator Hillary Clinton to do the same. Hers would be joint returns, of course, with former President Clinton. The Clintons are expected to release them sometimes in the coming days, but is there something behind the delay? What might we see in those returns? ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross is here and he's been looking at that. Good morning, Brian.

ABC GRAPHIC: Tax Time for Clintons: What's Known About Their Millions?

BRIAN ROSS: Good morning, Chris. The delay has raised lots of questions. From reports Senator Clinton has already filed, we know she and her husband have made well over $50 million since they left the White House. But it could be a lot more. And the tax returns expected any day now will answer a lot of questions about how they made so much and whether they paid their taxes like average Americans or the like the super rich they have become. On the campaign trail, Senator Clinton has promised to end tax breaks for the rich.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: We are going to scrub down that tax code, so that the middle class gets the tax breaks, not the wealthy and well connected.

ROSS: And among the wealthy's favorite legal but controversial tax breaks, setting up investments and accounts offshore in secretive places like the Cayman Islands. And an examination of the records Clinton has filed, reveals her husband is a partner in an investment fund, Yucaipa Global Partnership, registered in the Cayman Islands.

JACK BLUM (tax attorney, Baker Hostetler): No average person has interests and funds in the Cayman Islands. This is all of the above average, non-tax paying super rich.

ROSS: The former president's Cayman Island investment is part of his dealings with a close friend, Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle. According to the Wall Street Journal, Clinton is also expected to receive a payout of around $20 million for his role as an adviser to Burkle's investment funds.

BLUM: He's selling the presidency. It's also attracting rich investors who think, well, I'll get close to Bill Clinton if I buy into that fund. He's selling his charm and ability to get other people to buy in.

ROSS: Clinton has also been paid millions as a consultant to a company run by another close friend, Indian American businessman Vinod Gupta. Shareholders in Gupta's data collection agency have complained that Gupta used company resources to ingratiate himself with Clinton and other personal friends, including the use of the company's private jet. Gupta has said it was a legitimate business expense to hire Clinton. In addition to his consultant deals, the former president made tens of millions of dollars giving speeches around the world. $150,000 for this appearance in Dubai, and as much as $450,000 for a speech in London. A new accounting by ABC News found that as of June last year, Clinton had earned $47 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House. A spokesman for the Clinton campaign says the former president and his wife pay full U.S. taxes at the ordinary income tax rate, meaning they get no special tax breaks because the Cayman investment fund off shore doesn't not give them one, they say. But with taxes, the devil is in the details and the proof of what they really pay will come when the Clintons finally make public their tax returns, sometime they say before April 15.

CUOMO: You make a good point there, Brian. We get it. They have a lot of money. But why would you have offshore accounts?

ROSS: They say it's to attract foreign investors who don't have to pay U.S. taxes, but the tax experts we talk to say whenever you go off shore, it immediately raises questions and it's been one of the issues Senator Clinton has raised during the campaign. So, these tax returns will raise a lot of questions that reign very large right now.

7:14am

ROBIN ROBERTS: Now for the bottom line, we turn to host of ABC's chief Washington correspondent and host of "This Week" George Stephanopoulos. And let's pick it up here, George. Tax time and with the delay from the Clintons with their tax return, is there a concern within her campaign about this impending release?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Robin, I think they know it's going to be a distraction. People are going to be really interested in how President Clinton and Senator Clinton made all this money, what they did with it, how much they gave to charity. But I think they also believe this is not going to be a bombshell, that the bottom line will show that the Clintons did pay their fair share of taxes. They didn't try to evade taxation in any way and that they also gave a fair amount to charity.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org