Clinton Defends Big Money Speeches: ‘Why Is There One Standard For Me?’

Updated | The two Democratic presidential candidates participated in another town hall on Tuesday night, four days before their next primary in South Carolina. CNN’s Chris Cuomo addressed Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton one at a time before a live audience, with the Vermont senator taking the stage first during the two-hour forum.

When it was her turn to face the crowd, Clinton wasn’t given much time to ease into the event. Almost immediately after Clinton took her seat on stage, Cuomo asked her about whether she will release the transcripts of her paid speeches that she gave to Goldman Sachs and other banks. The former secretary of state continued to resist the pressure, saying she will disclose them if Sanders and Republicans do the same.

“Why is there one standard for me and not for everybody else?” Clinton said. “If people are going to ask for things, everybody should be on a level playing field and I’m happy if that were the case.”

0223_CNN_Democratic_town_hall_02 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a town hall hosted by CNN in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 23. The event, which her challenger Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also participated in, came four days before voters will cast their ballots in the state's Democratic primary. Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters

Cuomo also asked Sanders about the transcripts. The liberal firebrand has surged in polls amid his harsh criticism of Wall Street and its role in the 2008 recession. On Tuesday night, he again made his case that he doesn’t have any transcripts to release because he doesn’t give paid speeches to banks.

“I am very happy to release all of my paid speeches to Wall Street. Here it is, Chris. There ain’t none,” Sanders said to laughter from the crowd.

The two candidates faced voters, many of them who admittedly are undecided, at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia. In recent weeks, cable networks have scheduled town halls as additional forums for the challengers in both parties to appear directly before voters ahead of upcoming primary events.

On the issue of her use of a personal email account during her time as secretary of state, Clinton said nobody in a Cabinet position has ever been more transparent or open than she has been with turning over 55,000 pages of emails for a federal investigation. Most recently, a federal judge on Tuesday ruled that her former U.S. State Department officials and aides should be questioned under oath about whether her use of her account was an effort to skirt open records laws.

“Every single time somebody has hurled these charges against me, which they have done, it’s proved to be nothing, and this is no different than that,” she said. “It is just not something that is going to have any lasting effect, and I am not at all worried about it.”

Cuomo also asked both hopefuls about President Obama’s recent announcement to close Guantánamo Bay Prison in Cuba and transfer the remaining detainees. Both Sanders and Clinton have said they agree with Obama’s case to close the facility. Cuomo questioned their support in the context of South Carolina, where the prisoners potentially could be transferred to a holding facility.

“Where they end up should be a matter of negotiation. I know that’s what the president wants to do,” Clinton said.

“We look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world. What we have done is locked up people in a way that is causing all kinds of repercussions around the world,” Sanders said in his response. “Obviously if people are terrorists, they need to be confined, and we need to make sure they stay in jail until whatever happens.”

Within 10 minutes of the start, a voter asked Sanders if he believes an American who legally purchases a gun should be allowed to carry it openly in a public arena, such as a place of worship or school. Last June, a gunman fatally shot nine African-American worshippers during a Bible study at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina. A break in the background check system allowed the suspect, Dylann Roof, to obtain the gun he later used in the massacre.

“If I were the governor of a state, would I be supportive of people taking guns into houses of worship? No, I would not. That's not something that I am comfortable with, but that’s a decision being made by the state,” Sanders said. He reminded voters that he has a “D-minus” rating from the National Rifle Association, which he repeats on the campaign trail as Clinton attacks him for his gun-voting record from earlier in his career.

Sanders seemed to defend Obama when he accused GOP front-runner Donald Trump and others for the re-emergence of a discussion over the president’s birthplace. Sanders called their demand a “racist effort to try to de-legitimatize the president of the United States.”

“My dad, as I mentioned, came from Poland. I’m running for president. Guess what? Nobody has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin, I don’t know,” Sanders said. Clinton has said her challenger has been overly critical of Obama in the past.

In what seemed to be a calm setting for both candidates, Cuomo even brought up Beyoncé. He asked Clinton if she agrees with some police officers calling for a boycott against the singer’s music for her Super Bowl halftime performance earlier this month. The law enforcement officials accuse Beyoncé of promoting the Black Panthers and spreading an anti-police message with her “Formation” video. Clinton acknowledged there are many officers who perform honorably each day, but said simultaneously there are problems in the U.S. criminal justice system in a lot of places “that we can’t ignore.”

“We’ve got to come to grips with the fact that we’ve got to do some re-training here. We’ve got to do some work to make sure that our police are understanding how best to deal with situations, where somebody’s not armed, somebody’s sitting on a park bench, and he ends up dead,” she said.

More than debates, the town halls give the candidates a longer time to address questions and to speak outside of their memorized policy statements. Plus, they can’t be seen as ignoring the questions being posed by average Americans who are, in effect, serving as proxies for the voting public. Cuomo presented more personal questions to Sanders than he did with Clinton. Americans learned that Sanders’s spirituality is his belief that “we are in this together.”

“I believe what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing,” he added.

They also discovered that Sanders “respects” and “likes” his rival, despite the political setting they face in the presidential election. “This is not some kind of personality fight,” he said. “We’re not Republicans, after all.”

After the South Carolina primary on Saturday, the Democrats will gear up for Super Tuesday on March 1, when a clump of primaries and caucuses take place on the same day.

As the town hall began, Americans on the West Coast met at precincts to caucus for the Republican party in Nevada. Trump won, followed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio in second and Texas Senator Ted Cruz in third.

This story has been updated to reflect the Nevada results.