Focus On Wrong Victim
Almost a year ago, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that Bill Clinton should have resigned over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. At the time, I thought Gillibrand was wrong — not to mention a bit tardy — but now I’m undecided. What moved me, though, has little to do with Lewinsky and much more to do with a name that seems to have been forgotten: Juanita Broaddrick. She claimed Clinton raped her. Broaddrick’s allegations first surfaced in 1992 as Clinton was running for president, and then resurfaced in 1999 when he was being impeached. Her story seemed to be just another wild accusation made by twisted Clinton haters — the “murder” of White House aide Vincent Foster, drug smuggling through Arkansas and, seemingly, the disappearance of anyone within 100 miles of Little Rock. Recently, however, I listened to a remarkable podcast. It is called Slow Burn, produced by Slate and narrated by its staff writer, Leon Neyfakh. Thus far, Slow Burn has covered two political scandals — Richard Nixon’s Watergate and what started as Bill Clinton’s Whitewater but wound up as L’affaire Lewinsky. Clinton was investigated by an obsessed special prosecutor, Ken Starr, and deranged members of the House. (Starr provided Slow Burn with a lengthy interview as did, surprisingly, Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded Lewinsky’s private confession of her affair with Clinton. Neither had substantial regrets.) The Clinton impeachment saga never goes away. It surfaced recently in the flap over Brett Kavanaugh, because his accuser was yet another woman with immense credibility but no hard evidence. And it surfaced, of course, with Gillibrand’s comment last year about Clinton. Yet while her focus was on Clinton and Lewinsky — the tired formulation of the powerful man and the infantilized young woman — nothing was said of Broaddrick, whose story was found credible by numerous reporters. NBC’s Lisa Myers, who interviewed Broaddrick in January 20, 1999, told Slate, “I tested her story every way I could, again and again and again. And no detail ever changed — it never got better, it never got worse. It was always the same.” And Peter Baker, covering the story in The Washington Post, told the podcast the words he wrote in his journal after interviewing one of Broaddrick’s after-the-fact witnesses: “My God!” There were some problems. Two of the women Broaddrick said knew of the incident were suspected of anti-Clinton bias. Another problem was that Broaddrick had once — under oath — denied that Clinton had raped her. (She just wanted the whole thing to go away, she said.) But the main problem, as far as Starr and the House impeachers were concerned, was that an alleged rape was outside their purview. So they relegated the allegation to an asterisk in their report. By the time Broaddrick’s story finally went public, Bill Clinton, impeached by the House, was acquitted by the Senate. It’s incongruent that Gillibrand and others have concentrated exclusively on Lewinsky — characterized first as a vixen but now as a victim — and have paid scant attention to Broaddrick. Some of that may be due to Broaddrick’s politics. She was once a supporter of Clinton’s, but she’s now (perhaps unsurprisingly) vociferously pro-Trump. She supported Kavanaugh and denigrated Christine Blasey Ford, saying, “I don’t believe her. She has cast a dark shadow on real victims.” For some, Broaddrick cast a dark shadow on herself. I remember refusing to deal with Broaddrick’s allegation because I simply chose to believe Bill Clinton was not a rapist. Clinton, after all, was one of “us” — college-educated, modern, urbane and not some hooded monster preying on strangers. Men like that do not rape. My position has proved naive. Violence can be in the sexual repertoire of any man. Neyfakh began his podcast with an admission that he had “a lasting affection for Clinton — a sense that he had been framed by hypocrites.” I felt the same and, what’s more, I got to like and admire Clinton as a candidate and as president. And yet, rehashing Broaddrick’s charges and hearing her re-interviewed gave me pause. I know you expect a conclusion so, in all its equivocation, here it is: I am no longer certain that Clinton did not rape Broaddrick. I am, though, hardly certain that he did. My only certainty is that you ought to listen to the Slow Burn podcast. I am certain you will find it disturbing. RICHARD COHEN is a columnist for The Washington Post.