Hillary Clinton is learning that the sting of her husband’s decades-old sex scandals still isn’t over and that now she is also being called-on to answer for them.
“She’s got one of the great women abusers of all time sitting in her house, waiting for her to come home for dinner,” is how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump describes it.
The tawdry side of Bill Clinton’s past ranges from his acknowledged sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky to alleged affairs, groping and rape. The former president has addressed some of the stories, denied some and ignored others. He paid one accuser $850,000 in an out-of-court settlement that didn’t admit to any wrongdoing.
That seamy season of his life came back as an issue in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency when she said Trump “demonstrated a penchant for sexism.” Trump countered that criticism of that kind was unfair coming from a woman married to Bill Clinton. “She wants to accuse me of things and the husband is one of the great abusers of the world,” Trump said. “Give me a break.”
After Trump started reminding Americans of Bill Clinton’s past, a woman who accused Clinton in 1999 of rape in his home state of Arkansas in 1978 sent out a message on Twitter: “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General, raped me and Hillary tried to silence me. I am now 73. It never goes away.” Juanita Broaddrick never pressed criminal charges and, with the exception of a few media interviews, has generally stayed out of the public eye. Through an attorney, the ex-president long ago denied her accusation.
When Trump and Broaddrick – now a Trump supporter – put it back in the news, Bill Clinton said it was part of the Republican campaign for the White House and he wouldn’t comment. “I have no interest in getting involved with their politics or do anything except try to help Hillary.”
But the most damaging allegation about Hillary Clinton may be that she actively worked to undermine the women who accused her husband. Trump has picked up on the accusation and Clinton pointedly refused to engage him. “I have no response,” she told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. “I am going to let him say whatever he wants to say. He can run his campaign however he wishes.” When pressed, Clinton stood her ground. “I’m going to let voters decide what’s relevant and what’s not relevant in their decision about who they’re going to support.”
No evidence against Hillary Clinton has ever surfaced. But at one campaign stop, one questioner did ask her whether women who make accusations should be believed, using three of her husband’s best-known accusers as examples – Broaddrick, who accused him of rape; Paula Jones, who collected the $850,000 for alleged sexual harassment, and Kathleen Willey, a White House volunteer who said that in 1993 the President grabbed and kissed her in the Oval Office’s private study – an accusation he denied.
Mrs. Clinton simply said, “I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved on evidence.” She faced a heckler with a similar question at another stop but pointedly said, “You are very rude and I’m not ever going to call on you.”
The U.S. media have approached the topic gingerly, with much less attention than they devote to Trump’s headline-making pronouncements. It could be that, having scrutinized Bill Clinton’s philandering in the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment proceedings that almost cost him his presidency, American journalists don’t think that Hillary’s bid for the presidency demands that they to do it all over again. It’s not clear that the American public wants them to.
As Mollie Hemingway, senior editor of the online magazine The Federalist put it: “These are the types of Clinton scandals that people remember from the 90s and they’re tired.”
Jonathan Mann hosts Political Mann on CNN International, airing Mondays at 10am GMT.