The prize quote of this incendiary political year may go to Hillary Clinton. In response to Donald Trump's charge that the Clintons set up a pay-for-play arrangement that granted big contributors access to Clinton while she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said, "My work as secretary of state was not influenced by any outside forces. I made policy decisions based on what I thought was right to keep Americans safe and protect our interests abroad." She added, "I know there's a lot of smoke, and there's no fire."
Can there be smoke without fire? I asked an expert. My son, Jay Thomas, has spent most of his professional life as a firefighter. He tells me: "Very simply put, where there is smoke there is, or was, fire. Smoke is a byproduct of combustion. There are three stages of fire: smoldering, incipient and free burning. Each one (emits) smoke."
For more, I turn to the website Programmerinterview.com: "The phrase 'where there's smoke there's fire' means that if something looks wrong then it probably is wrong -- just like if you see smoke there probably is a fire somewhere. ... When the signs of trouble are there, then that means that trouble is probably there as well."
Clear enough? The Clintons have been lighting and trying to put out "fires" started by the combustible material of their shifting ethics and morals at least since Bill was governor of Arkansas. Earliest memory recalls Hillary making a killing in the cattle futures market. A 1994 report by Charles R. Babcock, staff writer for The Washington Post, reveals a type of smoke screen surrounding her dubious practice: "Hillary Rodham Clinton was allowed to order 10 cattle futures contracts, normally a $12,000 investment, in her first commodity trade in 1978, although she had only $1,000 in her account at the time, according to trade records the White House released yesterday.
"The computerized records of her trades, which the White House obtained from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, show for the first time how she was able to turn her initial investment into $6,300 overnight. In about 10 months of trading, she made nearly $100,000, relying heavily on advice from her friend James B. Blair, an experienced futures trader.
"The new records also raise the possibility that some of her profits -- as much as $40,000 -- came from larger trades ordered by someone else and then shifted to her account, Leo Melamed, a former chairman of the Merc who reviewed the records for the White House, said in an interview. He said the discrepancies in Clinton's records also could have been caused by human error."
Ah, yes, human error, but not on her part, of course. There are always "discrepancies," or mistakes made by others, or vast right-wing conspiracies. The Clintons' motives are pure and those of us who doubt them are the ones who are wrong. It always seems the Clintons manage to escape accountability for anything that would lead to the arrest, indictment, conviction and jailing of just about anyone else.
The Associated Press, hardly a right-wing entity, first reported the story about Hillary Clinton's foreign visitors to the State Department, who "happened" to have given large amounts of cash to the Clinton Foundation. The wire service received a partial schedule and has requested the rest of her calendar by Oct. 15. The State Department has said it won't provide the calendar until after the election, possibly by Dec. 30.
How convenient for her. It's been seven months since a federal judge ordered monthly releases of her daily schedule.
Hillary Clinton's ethical challenges might stand out more were it not for Donald Trump's own record when it comes to telling the truth.
In the end, will it matter? If we care too little about ethics and morals in our leaders, it shows we do not hold these virtues in high regard. That says at least as much about us, as it does about them. And that's not blowing smoke.
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Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.