Tough Questions for 2016 Candidates

What questions should reporters ask 2016 candidates?

The social media site “Linked in for Journalists” is posing that question to its 30,000 members about presidential candidates, but the concept is readily applicable to candidates seeking lower-level federal posts.

Ivy Ziedrich and Jeb Bush CNNThis exercise is worthwhile even though front-running candidates tend to avoid meaningful responses, especially given the ridicule prompted by the recent responses by Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to inquiries about their views on Iraq.

Yet it’s useful for the rest of us to identify the best questions. We can then see, if nothing else, the gap between the typical campaign coverage and what really matters.

Bush and University of Nevada college student Ivy Ziedrich are shown after she challenged him during a campaign appearance in Reno last week. She made worldwide headlines by asking him about Iraq policy in ways few reporters have the gumption or opportunity to do.

My list below of suggested questions includes the usual core basics on jobs, health, war, and taxes.

Also, we should explore deeper historical and personal secrets, including those regarding a candidate’s taxes, health, religion, and money-making — all topics that candidates increasingly declare off-limits.

But with the stakes so high for the public, no one should be trusted who keeps secrets. Their silence becomes in effect a pledge of allegiance to their puppet masters — and not to voters.

Before drilling down into detail, we provide an entertaining video illustrating why campaigning politicians are trying increasingly to avoid answering questions about substance, except from pre-screened individuals regarded as friendly or controlled by the circumstances (often a workplace run by a friendly employer.

In this instance, Comedy Channel Daily Show host Jon Stewart examined what happened when aforementioned student Ziedrich and Fox News host Megyn Kelly separately asked Bush about his policy on the Iraq War started by his brother, President George W. Bush, in 2003.

Comedy Central: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Kin's Speech, May 14, 2015.

The Questions

-- What are your plans for: Immigration? Health care? Taxes? Deficit reduction? Legal reform? Climate change? Middle East wars? Domestic surveillance?

Comment: Okay, that’s out of the way and gets the conversation started.

-- Will you disclose your personal tax returns? Health care records? Academic records? Will you discuss your religious beliefs?

Comment: Release of such records used to be routine. But President still refuses to release his transcripts and related documents for his schooling in high school, college, and law school. His 2012 GOP opponent Mitt Romney steadfastly refused to release his tax returns, creating stonewalling almost unknown in modern times. additionally, he declined to discuss his religious beliefs even though he had been a bishop in his Mormon Church, which was unfamiliar in its doctrines to many Americans. 2008 GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin refused to release her health records, another rare refusal. Evidence exists that each of these avoidance measures was for a significant reason. More generally, two recent books have documented how fundamentalist denominations in the United States with tens of millions of members teach that the end of the world is near, that Mideast Wars are to be welcomed, and and their the faithful should back candidates supporting such themes. Although religion has long been part of a candidate's persona seldom have such extreme and often secret views held such political importance.

-- Do you believe that the sources of a candidate's wealth are worthy of in-depth investigation? For example, Bill and Hillary Clinton are reported to have made $25 million from speeches over a 16-month recent period, including some $225,000 from an educational services company co-founded by Jeb Bush. Details: Hillary Clinton Paid by Jeb Bush’s Education Company.

Comment: Many reporters are willing to report on donations or such recent income as the Clintons' but shy away from complaints of suspicious moneymaking earlier in a candidate's career, even though older deeds are often better documented for obvious reasons.

-- What is your plan for campaign finance reform? Also, do you think congressional districts should be drawn up under current procedures, or should be in compact, recognizable geographical areas? 

Comment: We now enter the realm of a few questions that separate those candidates with a rubber-stamp mentality from those who have given at least some thought to a better political system.

-- Are you willing to reexamine the structure of the nation's tax-exempt charities and other advocacy centers that claim charitable, educational or other tax-exempt status when they are quite clearly advocacy centers or slush funds for their staffs?

Comment: GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has benefited enormously from his Florida patron Norman Braman, who among other things hired Rubio's wife Jeannette Rubio for $54,000 a year to supervise a $9 million charity that made just $250 in charitable donations in 2013, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times, Norman Braman charity Marco Rubio's wife works for wasn't very giving in 2013.

-- Will you fight harder for federal compliance with Freedom of Information laws, or do you accept the premise that federal agencies can routinely thwart the federal law by claiming they are too busy to comply with requests? As a specific case, do you endorse Hillary Clinton's decision to keep her emails on a private system in violation of federal law and the Obama administration's announcement, State Dept. Won't Release Clinton's Emails Until 2016, that it is too busy to release to the public any of the emails she decided to deliver to the State Department?

Comment: This case, which has parallels in President George W. Bush's administration that it kept Karl Rove's emails on a private system that lost them, illustrates the partisan methods that characterize even seemingly clearcut legal requirements. Candidates can either respond on a basis of neutral principals to all, or engage in transparently partisan positions. In the case of the Clinton emails, the material undoubtedly contains explosive material in the public interest to reveal. As one example, a hacked email that the Justice Integrity Project reported shows that Clinton's private, off-the-books political intelligence advisor Sidney Blumenthal wrote her in November 2012 that the dismissal of CIA Director David Petraeus appeared to suggest his involvement in an "October Surprise" plot of those disloyal to President Obama. Details: GOP Pre-Election Benghazi Plot With Petraeus? Hillary’s Emails, Part II,These are the types of sinister developments, or at least suspicions, reported in our 2013 book Presidential Puppetry but consistently withheld from the voting public.

-- Have you looked at the classified 28-page report made available to congress last summer on who funded the 9/11 attacks? Do you think it should be made available to the public, as three of the four bipartisan leaders of House Senate investigative committees have urged? If it should remain secret what are your reasons?

Comment: We are getting to where the rubber meets the road on whether officials are doing their jobs or simply affirming what they are told.

-- Do you agree with the conclusions of the 1964 Warren Commission report on the murder of President Kennedy the previous year? That Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president by firing three shots from the rear, and that Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald. Whatever, the case on that, do you object to the CIA and National Archives promptly releasing remaining documents to comply with the provisions of the 992 "JFK Act" passed unanimously by Congress and requiring release?

Comment: Experts and the public have long agreed that the Warren Commission was an unbelievable cover-up. Pollsters have consistently found that between 60+ and 80+ percent of the public does not Michael Morell at National Press Club May 18, 2015 Noel St. John photobelieve the Warren Reports. Yet the establishment, including political figures, increasingly defers to the desires of the CIA. This is another litmus test of a candidate's loyalties. On a related note, this editor questioned former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell regarding reasons why the CIA has helped thwart release of remaining JFK documents and also 28-pages still classified from a 2002 joint Senate House report on 9/11. The occasion for the questions was a National Press Club "Newsmaker" discussion, National Press Club Newsmaker, Counterterrorism Efforts: Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell spoke about counterterrorism successes and failures, on May 18, 2015. As shown on a C-SPAN video, Morell (shown in a photo by Noel St. John) responded that he he had not had an opportunity to become familiar with details of either matter but advocated transparency in general. The 62-minute video is shown below.



Such responses as Morell's are fairly common in Washington when a question is posed on a sensitive matter. Additionally, it can be difficult for reporters even to pose difficult or sensitive questions. For one thing, major reporters and sources share in business and pleasure as illustrated by another press club speaker May 18, assistant Secretary of State Douglas Frantz, who joined government after a long career as a reporter/editor for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times, which paved the way for him to write books and serve Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) before moving on to the State Department.

Commentator Dan Froomkin further illustrated the back-scratching between the media and news sources with a column on The Intercept May 18, excerpted below in The Infernal Cocktail Party Corruption of Washington’s Elite Media.

At work also is real fear from journalists, who face such pressures as those described in Politico by S.V. Dáte in How Jeb Bush Schooled the Florida Press. "By the end, Jeb Bush thought I was a jerk," Dáte recalls. "Also that I was the least fair journalist in all of Tallahassee. I only did 'hit' pieces designed to 'screw' him, he wrote an economist who had talked to me about Bush’s crackdown on gasoline price-gouging. And no, Bush emailed me, he absolutely would not be interviewed for the biography I was writing of him. And just to be clear: It wasn’t because he was simply too busy. He was choosing not to spend time being interviewed."

The bottom line? We need great questions for the candidates (and other government officials).

But they're not just for journalists to use. As evidenced by outspoken Nevada college student Ivy Ziedrich last week, the toughest interrogator and biggest reaction may just come from a candidate query by a concerned citizen.

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Related News Coverage


Guardian, Student who told Jeb Bush 'Your brother created Isis' speaks out about incident, Alan Yuhas, May 15, 2015. Ivy Ziedrich challenged the likely presidential candidate after he blamed the militant group’s formation on Barack Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq. A college student who confronted Jeb Bush about the Iraq war has spoken out about the incident, which made headlines around the world, saying of the former Florida governor’s position: “It was like somebody crashing their car and blaming the passenger.” Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old University of Nevada student, addressed the likely presidential candidate after he spoke at town hall event in Reno, telling him: “Your brother created Isis.” She questioned him amid a flock of reporters about his assertion that the jihadi group developed because Barack Obama had overseen the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. “You stated that Isis was created because we don’t have enough presence and we’ve been pulling out of the Middle East,” Ziedrich said, shifting blame instead on to the consequences of George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “The threat of Isis was created by the Iraqi coalition authority, which ousted the entire government of Iraq. “It was when 30,000 individuals who are part of the Iraqi military – they were forced out. They had no employment, they had no income, yet they were left with access to all the same arms and weapons. Your brother created Isis!”

Linked In for Journalists, As more candidates declare for the 2016 election, what issues should journalists be probing? What would you like to ask candidates? Joshua Shapiro, April 2015. If the past is prologue, we will hear about lots about personalities and job creators and less about policy. What about the role of government? Who get supported by the social safety net? Is the market the arbiter of policy?

C-SPAN 1, National Press Club Newsmaker, Counterterrorism Efforts: Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell spoke about counterterrorism successes and failures, May 18, 2015. People in this video: Bloomberg BNA Editor and Writer Keith Hill (host) and Michael J. Morell, former CIA deputy director.

Politico, How Jeb Bush Schooled the Florida Press, S.V. Dáte, May/June 2015. He’s always aimed to win and doesn’t like anyone getting in his way—especially the media. I had come to Tallahassee after covering NASA for four Jeb Bushyears, and I spent all of Bush’s eight years as governor covering his administration for the Palm Beach Post, from his winning 1998 campaign through the January afternoon in 2007 when he left office. I watched, listened and asked some questions he was happy to answer—and many more he didn’t have any use for. Over that time, I read thousands of email messages and government records and observed hundreds of hours of Bush answering thousands of questions in formal and informal settings. The word “relentless” doesn’t begin to explain this Bush. I’ve yet to encounter any other politician as smart, as driven, as self-disciplined, as organized, as single-minded about his goals—or as certain about his views. And when it came to dealing with the press corps, Bush wasn’t afraid to let that certainty shine through. He’s almost always the smartest guy in the room—and he made sure to remind us of that in news conference after news conference, eviscerating reporters who came unprepared or with wishy-washy questions. In politics, Bush has always seen the world starkly—you’re either with him or you’re against him. And the press, he was convinced, was usually against him. If, though, he wins the White House, where he can impose strict message discipline and dole out scoops to chosen reporters while protected and isolated inside a Secret Service bubble—well, that might finally provide the scrutiny-free work environment that he’s always seemed to crave.

Comedy Central: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Kin's Speech, May 14, 2015.

Tampa Bay Times, Norman Braman charity Marco Rubio's wife works for wasn't very giving in 2013, Alex Leary, May 18, 2015. In a profile of Jeanette Rubio, we reported how the charity she works for paid her at least $54,000 in Marco Rubio official2013. But another figure stands out: $250. That’s how much the Braman Family 2011 Charitable Foundation gave out that year, the most recent year for which form 990s are available. The charity reported assets worth more than $9 million, and its lone donation went to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in New York. In an interview last week, Debi Wechsler, who is Norman Braman’s daughter and works on the charity, said that was a time when her parents were doing more philanthropy on their own and that Mrs. Rubio was involved. (That was echoed by others familiar with the Braman operation.) We subsequently asked her for more information, and will update this blog when she replies. Despite little charitable giving in 2013, the foundation still reported $149,237 in “misc airplane trips for charitable purposes.” Braman’s relationship with the Rubios has gotten attention recently, in the pages of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times and the New York Times, which revealed Braman gave Florida International University $100,000 to fund a teaching job Rubio took here after leaving the state House in 2008.

AP via Huffington Post, State Dept. Won't Release Clinton's Emails Until 2016, Staff report, May 18, 2015. The State Department has proposed releasing portions of 55,000 pages of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by next January. The department made the proposal in a federal court filing Monday night, in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Vice News. In the filing, John F. Hackett, who is responsible for the department's responses to FOIA requests, said that following a review of the emails, the department will post the releasable portions of the 55,000 pages on its website. He said the review will take until the end of the year — and asked the court to adopt a completion date of Jan. 15, 2016, to factor in the holidays. That's just a couple of weeks before the Iowa caucuses and early state primaries that follow. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential election, has said she wants the department to release the emails as soon as possible. The disclosure that she conducted State Department business on a private email account has been a controversy from the very inception of her campaign this year. In Monday night's filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Hackett said the State Department received the 55,000 pages of emails from Clinton in paper form. He said he the department understands the considerable public interest in the records, but said the size of the collection, the nature of the emails and the interest of several agencies present challenges.

Justice Integrity Project, GOP Pre-Election Benghazi Plot With Petraeus? Hillary’s Emails, Part II, Andrew Kreig, March 31, 2015. Larger lessons of varying kinds could be drawn from that history. But the one most current and clear is that the Blumenthal email suggests, rightly or wrongly, the possibility of high-level domestic intrigue involving the CIA. Even more important, this ominous threat to democracy was not regarded as newsworthy hardly anywhere except by Madsen, the Washington Times, and perhaps a few others not prominent. More privately, someone of Sidney Blumenthal's acumen thought the threat important enough to source from his political intelligence sources and apprise Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Fox News, Military intel predicted rise of ISIS in 2012, detailed arms shipments from Benghazi to Syria, Catherine Herridge, May 18, 2015. Seventeen months before President Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a "JV team," a Defense Intelligence Agency report predicted the rise of the terror group and likely establishment of a caliphate if its momentum was not reversed. While the report was circulated to the CIA, State Department and senior military leaders, among others, it's not known whether Obama was ever briefed on the document. The DIA report, which was reviewed by Fox News, was obtained through a federal lawsuit by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch. Documents from the lawsuit also reveal a host of new details about events leading up to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack -- and how the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria fueled the violence there. The report on the growing threat posed by what is now known as the Islamic State was sent on Aug. 5, 2012. TYhe October 2012 report may also be problematic for Hillary Clinton, who likewise skirted the weapons issue during her only congressional testimony on Benghazi in January 2013. In an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is now a Republican candidate for president, the former secretary of state said, "I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody's ever raised that with me."

Mother Jones, Jeb Bush says his brother was misled into war by faulty intelligence. That’s not what happened, David Corn, May 19, 2015. It is very important that the Bush cabal not be allowed to continue fooling the American public.
 "George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Co. were not misled by lousy intelligence; they used lousy intelligence to mislead the public."

Mother Jones, George W. Bush's CIA Briefer: Bush and Cheney Falsely Presented WMD Intelligence to Public, David Corn, May 19, 2015. On "Hardball," Michael Morell concedes the Bush administration misled the nation into the Iraq War. For a dozen years, the Bush-Cheney crowd have been trying to escape — or cover up — an essential fact of the W. years: President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants misled the American public about the WMD threat supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein in order to grease the way to the invasion of Iraq. For Bush, Cheney, and the rest, this endeavor is fundamental; it is necessary to protect the legitimacy of the Bush II presidency. But now there's a new witness who will make the Bush apologists' mission even more impossible: Michael Morell, a longtime CIA official who eventually became the agency's deputy director and acting director. During the preinvasion period, he served as Bush's intelligence briefer. Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball on Tuesday night, Morell made it clear: The Bush-Cheney administration publicly misrepresented the intelligence related to Iraq's supposed WMD program and Saddam's alleged links to Al Qaeda. Host Chris Matthews asked Morell about a statement Cheney made in 2003: "We know he [Saddam Hussein] has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Here's the conversation that followed:

MATTHEWS: Was that true?

MORELL: That's not true.


MATTHEWS: So you're briefing the president on the reasons for war, they're selling the war, using your stuff, saying you made that case when you didn't. So they're using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.

MORELL: Look, I'm just telling you—

MATTHEWS: You just admitted it.

MORELL: I'm just telling you what we said—

MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.

MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.

From David Corn; There's the indictment, issued by the intelligence officer who briefed Bush and Cheney: The Bush White House made a "false presentation" on "some aspects" of the case for war. "That's a big deal," Matthews exclaimed. Morell replied, "It's a big deal." And there's more. Referring to the claims made by Bush, Cheney, and other administration officials that Saddam was in league with Al Qaeda, Morell noted, "What they were saying about the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda publicly was not what the intelligence community" had concluded. He added, "I think they were trying to make a stronger case for the war." That is, stronger than the truth would allow.

The Intercept, Hillary Clinton Paid by Jeb Bush’s Education Company, Lee Fang, May 18, 2015. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received nearly a quarter of a million dollars last year for a speaking engagement on Hillary Clintonbehalf of Academic Partnerships, a for-profit education company in which Jeb Bush held an ownership stake and on whose board he served. Clinton’s newly-filed personal financial disclosure shows that she was paid $225,500 on March 24, 2014 by Academic Partnerships. At the invitation-only event in Dallas, Texas, Clinton reportedly said, “today a student doesn’t need to travel to Cambridge, Mass., or Cambridge, England, to get a world-class education.” Academic Partnerships assists universities in converting their academic degree programs into online versions that can be taken by students around the world. In 2011, Bush joined Academic Partnerships as an investor and as a paid advisor. He helped the company host multiple conferences and has appeared in online videos encouraging others to consider the Academic Partnership business model. Though he did not share the stage with Clinton, Bush spoke at the same conference. Preparing for an expected bid for the Republican nomination for president, Bush resigned from Academic Partnerships.

Intercept, The Infernal Cocktail Party Corruption of Washington’s Elite Media, Dan Froomkin, May 18, 2015. Mike Allen’s obsequious, pay-to-play Playbook newsletter was once hailed by the New York Times as a must-read for Washington’s “elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers.” For me, it’s most useful as a shameless chronicle of what that elite group cares about — and how it lives. In particular, Allen frequently documents how intimately and seamlessly connected the members of the media aristocracy are with other members of Washington’s ruling elite, whether they come from the intelligence community, the super-wealthy, big banks, the lobbying community, or top levels of government. Of course, that’s probably one of the many reasons why I’m not invited in the first place. To the elite media itself, all this is just background noise. Allen had a canonical example in Sunday’s edition:

CHARLIE ROSE’S WASHINGTON: Charlie Rose, the man who’s always working, got to just enjoy himself last night – tieless, and rocking sneakers. D.C. friends walked down a red carpet to the elegant terrace of the rarely seen estate of Franco Nuschese, owner of Café Milano, who was honoring Charlie with a dinner celebration and garden party after he delivered the Georgetown commencement address and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. In a toast, Charlie said Franco is the best traveling companion in Italy – aside from two of the evening’s guests, CIA Director John Brennan and former deputy CIA director Michael Morell.

If it were me, I’d go right up to Brennan and call him a goddamned liar, ask him why he won’t own up to the CIA’s role in torture, what he’s got on Obama, and why he doesn’t resign immediately in shame. Of course, that’s probably one of the many reasons why I’m not invited in the first place.

SPOTTED: Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Don Baer and Nancy Bard, Bret and Amy Baier, CIA Director John Brennan and Kathy Pokluda Brennan, Charlie Cook, Jan Crawford, Henry Davis, E.J. Dionne, Tom Donilon, Jim and Deb Fallows, Tom and Ann Friedman, Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis, Tammy Haddad, Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff, Walter and Cathy Isaacson, Chris and Jennifer Isham, Vernon and Ann Jordan, Tommy Kaplan (sic), Jonathan Karl, Katty Kay, Samantha Kulok, Jennifer Lawson of Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Margot McGinness, Frank Milwee, Michael Morell, Norah O’Donnell and Geoff Tracy, Roxanne Roberts, John F.W. Rogers, Sally Quinn, Hilary Rosen and Campbell Spencer, Chelsea Royal, David Sanger, Bob and Pat Schieffer, Justin Smith, Ellen Tauscher, George Tenet and Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, Yvette Vega, Chitra Wadhwani and more.

Washington Post, Marco Rubio’s claim that President Bush said he would not have invaded Iraq, Glenn Kessler, May 18, 2015. "Four Pinocchios." new explanation falls more in the realm of speculation (“I don’t think”) and also suggests that even if the president had pressed forward, he would not have received congressional approval. That may be correct. But Rubio’s initial claim was simply false. The former president has never suggested he would not have invaded Iraq if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction; instead, as recently as 2014, he has insisted his decision to invade was correct.

Charlie Rose: “If you look at the Iraq war, after finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction, would you, if you knew that, have been in favor of the Iraqi invasion?”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “Well, not only would I not have been in favor of it. President Bush would not have been in favor of it, and he said so.”

— Exchange at the Council on Foreign Relations, May 13, 2015

Jeb Bush Awarding Hillary Clinton Liberty Medal in 2013From 2013: CBS DC, Jeb Bush Awards Hillary Clinton Liberty Medal, Sept. 11, 2013. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush may share a presidential debate stage in 2016. But White House talk can wait in the name of civics. Bush, the former Florida governor who chairs the National Constitution Center, honored the former secretary of state on Tuesday with the organization’s Liberty Medal, marking Clinton’s “lifelong career in public service.” “Hillary and I come from different political parties and we disagree about lots of things. But we do agree on the wisdom of the American people — especially those in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Bush joked, referring to the three states that have traditionally played pivotal roles in presidential campaigns.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

National Press Club, Former CIA Deputy Director to Discuss Agency's Counterterrorism Successes and Failures, Keith Hill, May 18, 2015. Washington, DC – Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell will offer his assessment of the agency’s Michael Morelcounterterrorism successes and failures of the last 20 years at a National Press Club Newsmaker on Monday, May 18 at 10 a.m. in the club’s Bloomberg Room. Morrell will argue that the threat of terrorism did not die with bin Laden and will illuminate new and growing threats from terrorist groups that could leave this country vulnerable to attacks much larger than 9/11 if not addressed. These insights are discussed in his new book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism From al Qa’ida to ISIS. Morell is one of this country’s most prominent national security professionals, with extensive experience in intelligence and foreign policy.  Morell was a top CIA officer for over 30 years who played a critical role in the most important counterterrorism events of the past two decades.