Conservatives are making hay out of Hillary Clinton’s defense of an accused rapist

The conservative news site Washington Free Beacon has posted an audiotaped interview of Hillary Clinton bragging about her successful 1975 defense of a man she seems to have believed was guilty of raping a 12-year-old girl.

Even rapists deserve adequate legal representation, of course; that’s how our justice system works, no matter how reprehensible the crime. Hillary Rodham, as she was known then shortly after her marriage, was only 27 and had next to no experience as a defense attorney. But she was appointed by the court, took the case as a favor and then went all-out for her 41-year-old client — just as you’d hope any lawyer representing someone you loved would do.

Originally facing 30 years to life on a rape charge, Thomas Alfred Taylor wound up pleading guilty to unlawfully fondling someone under 14, and served about a year in an Arkansas county jail.

In an interview in the mid-1980s for an Esquire magazine piece that never ran, Clinton’s glee is audible about the prosecution’s big mistake in the case, when it accidentally discarded key evidence. Some are writing off the remarks, as one fellow journalist put it on social media, as “typical gonzo defense lawyer talk.”

It is not, however, typical talk for a lifelong defender of women and children.

Nor was Clinton’s defense plan, mapped out in a court affidavit. In it, she questioned the credibility of the victim and suggested that the sixth-grader, who an ER doctor said showed injuries consistent with rape, had “a tendency to seek out older men.”

“I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable,’’ Clinton wrote in the affidavit, “with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing.” The document, filed with the Washington County, Arkansas court on July 28, 1975, argued for a psychiatric evaluation for the victim.

“I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body,’’ Clinton wrote. “Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”

The “little bit nutty, little bit slutty’’ defense has a long, ugly history. It’s jarring to see it trotted out against a kid by a future feminist icon. The argument also bears an uncomfortable similitary to Clinton White House descriptions of Monica Lewinsky, who without that semen stain on her little blue dress would have been dismissed as a stalker who had fantasized that she had a relationship with President Bill Clinton.

In the end, Hillary Clinton didn’t have to go after the 12-year-old victim’s character because the prosecution accidentally discarded part of Taylor’s bloody, semen-stained underwear.

Also on the audiotape, Clinton may have violated attorney-client privilege in discussing Taylor, a factory worker who is dead now but was still alive when she gave the interview.

“[Of] course he claimed that he didn’t’’ rape the girl, “and all this stuff. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed — which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” she said, laughing.

In 2008, reporter Glenn Thrush wrote a long piece for Newsday about the case. After midnight on May 10, 1975, Taylor and his 20-year-old cousin visited a home where the 12-year-old victim was having a sleepover, and invited her to come out for a drive. Later, a 15-year-old boy that the victim apparently had a crush on joined them.

According to the Newsday piece, Taylor fed the victim whiskey and Coke, then drove his red Chevy pickup to a “weedy ravine” where the attack occurred. The 15-year-old told authorities that he had sex with the girl, and believed that Taylor had, too. At one point, the victim reportedly yelled, “You all planned this, didn’t you?”

“I never sought out older men,’’ the adult victim told Newsday in 2008. She said she had never before accused anyone of assault. “I was raped,” she told Thrush, in an attack that she felt had contributed to a suicide attempt about a year later and to decades of depression and other problems.

Clinton’s spokesman declined to comment.

In 2008, her spokesman told Newsday that Clinton “had an ethical and legal obligation to defend him to the fullest extent of the law. To act otherwise would have constituted a breach of her professional responsibilities.”

Defending even a child rapist as vigorously as possible might be a plus if she were running to lead the American Bar Association. But wouldn’t her apparent willingness to attack a sixth-grader compromise a presidential run?

Maybe not, because the reaction to the tape has been so partisan.

There have been shrugs from critics of Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin’s wildly misinformed remarks that in cases of “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down” and avoid pregnancy.

Yet many who were silent on or untroubled by Akin’s remarks about rape suddenly are finding Clinton’s insensitivity just stunning.

Are the only offensive remarks on the subject made by those whose politics we don’t like anyway? Clinton claimed recently to have stopped worrying about speaking her mind. But this long-ago interview is a reminder of the perils of actually doing that.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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