The Tax Law Professor Who Challenged Hillary Clinton

Andy Grewal's Clinton Tweet
A tax law professor challenged Hillary Clinton for tying her bank donations to 9/11.

There was a time in American politics where nearly every topic ended in a discussion of September 11. It was an approach that Joe Biden once characterized as "a noun and a verb and 9/11." September 11 politics appeared again, briefly, at Saturday's Democratic debate when Hillary Clinton was pressed by Bernie Sanders for taking donations from Wall Street. The reason she had so many big bank donations, she said, was the terror attacks in New York.

"So, I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11, when we were attacked," she said.

"Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is," she said. "I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country."

Clinton's juxtaposition might have been a bit jarring, but her opponents didn't jump on it. Instead viewers of the debate were treated to a broadside of Clinton's reasoning for her close ties to big banks by a tax law professor at University of Iowa who started the night with just 195 Twitter followers.

"I still don't know how they found me," Andy Grewal tells Newsweek, "I was using the #demdebate hashtag. I'm not an expert on Twitter. Maybe CBS was looking for someone in Iowa.

Grewal, who says he is undecided in this election cycle, but "not a liberal, at least not this year," decided to live-tweet the debate, mostly hewing to quotes from the candidates, but also adding a little voice. "I think I'm pretty good at snark," Grewal says.

When Grewal's big moment came, he was in his pajamas, trying to get to 200 followers by the end of the night. When Clinton's response to the Wall Street donation came, Grewal was appalled. "There are legitimate ways to defend Wall Street. She would have relationships with bankers. That doesn't make her a bad person." Politicians, after all, still cite 9/11 frequently, but usually, Grewal says, it's in immigration or national security, which are at least tenuously connected to the attacks.

Like most Twitter users, he paused nary a second and fired out his critical Tweet.

"I'm looking up and I see my face and tweet and television. I started laughing to myself initially then it was a few mins of a blur." Grewal was so taken aback he initially didn't hear Clinton's response, which included an apology to him. ("She apologized like politicians do: 'I apologize that somebody thought that. It wasn't responsive,'" he says.)

"There is a little badge on Twitter for notifications. Usually I'm at 1 or 2. Then I look and it says 99+," Grewal says. Hoping to finish the night with 200 followers, Grewal now has more than 1,000 and his Tweet was by many accounts the biggest moment of the night.

The professor says his last presidential votes have been "Kerry, McCain and (Libertarian) Gary Johnson," the latter being a protest vote at how shallow he felt the last campaign was. So far for 2016 he's been impressed by Marco Rubio, a Republican.

But he's also been very unimpressed with the debates. "They hear the question and (the candidates) just spout off on something else," although he has been impressed with moderators' attempts to bring wayward candidates back to the matter at hand.

As for all the attention, he says it's been fun, but he's a little hurt that after hundreds of written pages on tax policy, his moment of fame came from a 140 character Tweet. His students, he says, think it's fun to see their teacher in the news. And many of his fellow professors, some of whom are Clinton supporters, have been positive.

Grewal says he has been struck by how Clinton supporters on Twitter have responded. "I haven't received hate Tweets from Clinton supporters," says Grewal. "Even though I can't imagine myself voting for Clinton, I know plenty of good people who like her."

And as for his new role as political commentator on the internet? Grewal says he'll be live-Tweeting the next debate, where he expects some of the Republican candidates to say some "really crazy stuff."