In 1975, Hillary Clinton defended a man accused of raping a 12-year-old child during the early years of her private legal practice. She wrote about the case in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.” It was the subject of the 3,000-word story by Newsday during the 2008 presidential campaign.
But after the Washington Free Beacon published an audio recording Sunday in which Clinton discussed the case, conservatives then spent Monday dissecting Clinton’s role anew.
The Free Beacon portrayed Clinton’s attitude as “casual and complacent” while she discussed the case in an interview for a never-published story by Esquire magazine.
At the beginning of the recorded discussion, Clinton called it “a terrible case.” But she laughed while sharing some of the details of her casework, though not the crime itself. That was still the detail that caught the attention of many conservative outlets; the Free Beacon noted that Clinton could “be heard laughing at several points.” The site also questioned (via an expert) whether she had violated ethical obligations by disclosing the results of a polygraph test taken by her client.
PJ Media described the tape this way: “Hillary Rodham cackles as she describes defending a child rapist.” Townhall.com was slightly more reserved in its portrayal of the tape: “Hillary Clinton Talks Laughs About Defending Rapist.”
Clinton negotiated a plea deal that resulted in minimal jail time for her client, which she explained on the tape. But, while the Free Beacon quoted a legal expert who noted Clinton’s ethical obligation to defend her client, conservative operatives and opinionators leapt on her perceived crassness while discussing the case.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) June 16, 2014
Everyone knows lawyers have an ethical obligation to laugh about how they got a child rapist off on a technicality. http://t.co/BYcnpU1J0X
— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) June 16, 2014
Others used the Free Beacon’s publication of the audio recording to revisit details from the Newsday feature from 2008, which included some elements of the story that Clinton neglected to include in her memoir — such as her strategy of “attacking the credibility of a 12-year-old girl,” as Newsday described it.
While the case is nearly forty years old, some Americans may feel discomfort at the thought of a potential president who attacked the credibility of a girl who was raped. Yes, every American accused of a crime deserves the best defense they can get. But many outside the legal arena will conclude that attacking the victim crosses a line, and contributes to why some rape victims are so reluctant to come forward.
Clinton supporters criticized the story and its follow-up in the conservative media as “shameful.”
“This is another desperate and shameful attempt by the right to distract from Hillary Clinton’s strong record,” Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the pro-Hillary group Correct The Record, said in a statement to TPM. “Hillary Clinton went on to fight for groundbreaking justice for rape victims.”
Of note: Newsday tracked down the victim in the case, who was left unnamed. “I’m sure Hillary was just doing her job,” she told the newspaper in 2008.
But the Free Beacon also called that into question, reporting instead that the victim holds “a deep and abiding hostility” toward Clinton — though it included no direct quotes and stated the victim “declin(ed) an interview.”