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Clinton says her husband’s affair with White House intern wasn’t abuse of power in tone-deaf remarks

Amid the #MeToo movement, Hillary Clinton’s comments about Monica Lewinsky are especially tone-deaf

On CBS Sunday, former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton argued that President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was not an abuse of power. (PHOTO CREDIT: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for NARAS)
On CBS Sunday, former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton argued that President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was not an abuse of power. (PHOTO CREDIT: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for NARAS)

What happened in the mid-’90s between 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then-President Bill Clinton was not an abuse of power, former Democratic presidential nominee and first lady Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

Asked in an interview with CBS if, in retrospect, she believed her husband should have resigned in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal, the former secretary of state said, “Absolutely not.” Pressed on whether she believed the affair was an abuse of power, she said, “No, no.”

Clinton then quickly changed the subject to President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault or predation by numerous women. “Where’s the investigation of the current incumbent, against whom numerous allegations have been made, and which he dismisses, denies, and ridicules?” she asked.

Lewinsky has previously stated that the sexual relationship between herself and President Clinton was, though she didn’t realize it at the time, an “abuse of power,” given their respective roles and positions.

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“[W]hat transpired between Bill Clinton and myself was not sexual assault, although we now recognize that it constituted a gross abuse of power,” the former intern wrote in Vanity Fair earlier in March. “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege.”

Clinton’s comments would be tone deaf in any moment, but they feel particularly inappropriate in this one, with the #MeToo movement raging and the recent, devastating testimonies of three different women who claim they were preyed upon or assaulted by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Just last month, Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, came forward publicly, claiming that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a gathering in high school, when the two were teens. Two other women came forward, as well: Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker last month that, at a party in college, Kavanaugh thrust his penis to her face against her wishes, causing her to touch it, and another woman, Deborah Swetnick, says she was drugged and gang raped at a party where Kavanaugh was present. (Though she did not directly implicate Kavanaugh in the attack, she wrote in a sworn affidavit that Kavanaugh was among a group of boys who often spiked women’s drinks or drugged them in order to rape them at house parties.)

The three women were all subsequently subjected to a wave of sexist harassment, and Ford was ultimately forced out of her home following death threats.

Former Obama adviser David Axelrod weighed in on Clinton’s comments Sunday night, tweeting a story about the CBS interview and adding, “Just guessing this isn’t the story Democratic candidates were looking for in the homestretch of the midterms.”

This isn’t the first time that Clinton has faltered when #MeToo allegations have hit close to home. Earlier this year, a New York Times report revealed that she chose to shield a top adviser accused of sexual harassment during her 2008 campaign.

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According to the report, the woman, then 30, told campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle that Clinton adviser Burns Strider had rubbed her shoulders, kissed her on the forehead, and sent her suggestive emails. Solis Doyle took the information to Clinton, who reportedly said she didn’t want Strider — who sent her daily scripture readings — fired over the accusations.

“To ensure a safe working environment, the campaign had a process to address complaints of misconduct or harassment. When matters arose, they were reviewed in accordance with these policies, and appropriate action was taken,” the law firm representing the campaign said in a statement to the Times. “This complaint was no exception.”

“Appropriate action,” the Clinton camp determined, would include docking a few weeks pay and ordering Strider to undergo counseling. He was then allowed to continue working with the campaign.

President Clinton has also faced scrutiny over his recent responses to the Lewinsky controversy.

“We have a right to change the rules but we don’t have a right to change the facts,” the former president said during an interview earlier this year when he was asked about Lewinsky. “Nobody believes that I got out of that for free. I left the White House $16 million in debt.”

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Clinton later apologized, saying on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, to the American people. I meant it then, I meant it now… And I still believe this #MeToo movement is long overdue, necessary, and should be supported.”

Former Secretary Clinton and President Clinton are headed out on tour for a series of live events together across the country starting in late 2018.