(Melinda Mara/The Washington Post)

(Melinda Mara/The Washington Post)

“Yeah, I mean, [former president Bill Clinton is] a predator, a sexual predator, basically. Repetitive — you know there’s dozens or at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward.”

The Fact Checker does not quite perceive the strategic logic behind Sen. Rand Paul’s attacks on former president Bill Clinton as a “sexual predator.” Is he putting Hillary Rodham Clinton on notice that this stuff is fair game if she decides to run for president? He is trying to dampen enthusiasm for the Democrats’ biggest fundraiser? Is he trying to say Democrats are hypocrites in the so-called “war on women”?

That’s for political pundits to decide. We are interested in his use of numbers. He first referenced “dozens” of women but then amended that to “at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward.”

Is that really correct?

The Facts

Paul’s office declined to answer any questions about how the senator reached this count, which is unfortunate because there are some definitional issues.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sexual predator as “a person who has committed a sexually violent offense and especially one who is likely to commit more sexual offenses.” That’s a pretty harsh claim, but in his various interviews, Paul appears to be placing Monica Lewinsky on the list of so-called Clinton victims.

That was a consensual affair, in which Lewinsky was an eager participant, but Paul appears to take umbrage at the fact that she was 22 when the affair started and Clinton was the boss. “Having sex with an intern at the office is inappropriate by any standard,” he told Newsmax TV. On C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” show, he described Clinton as “some kind of abusive boss that uses their position of authority to take advantage of a young woman … a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment.”

Paul’s point is a bit muddled. On the one hand, he is using terms that suggest he is talking only about women who were allegedly the subject of sexual violence. But then he also cites women who became lovers when Clinton was in an executive position.

Let’s first compile a list of consensual liaisons admitted by the women in question:

Gennifer Flowers — a model and actress whose claims of a long-term affair nearly wrecked Clinton’s first run for the presidency in 1992. (Clinton denied her claims at the time, but under oath in 1998 he acknowledged a sexual encounter with her.)

Monica Lewinsky — intern at the White House, whose affair with Clinton fueled impeachment charges.

Dolly Kyle Browning — A high school friend who said in a sworn declaration that she had had a 22-year off-and-on sexual relationship with Clinton.

Elizabeth Ward Gracen — a former Miss America who said she had a one-night stand with Clinton while he was governor — and she was married. She went public to specifically deny reports he had forced himself on her.

Perhaps one could claim that Lewinsky and Gracen had relations when Clinton was in a position of executive authority. But both clearly appear to be consensual. Now let’s look at the list of women who came  forward and alleged an unwanted sexual encounter:

Paula Jones — A former Arkansas state employee who alleged that in 1991 Clinton, while governor, propositioned her and exposed himself. She later filed a sexual harassment suit, and it was during a deposition in that suit that Clinton initially denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. Clinton in 1998 settled the suit for $850,000, with no apology or admission of guilt. All but $200,000 was directed to pay legal fees.

Juanita Broaddrick — The nursing home administrator emerged after the impeachment trial to allege that 21 years earlier Clinton had raped her. Clinton flatly denied the claim, and there were inconsistencies in her story. No charges were ever brought.

Kathleen Willey — The former White House aide claimed Clinton groped her in his office in 1993, on the same day when her husband, facing embezzlement charges, died in an apparent suicide. (Her story changed over time. During a deposition in the Paula Jones matter, she initially said she had no recollection about whether Clinton kissed her and insisted he did not fondle her.) Clinton denied her account, and the independent prosecutor concluded “there is insufficient evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton’s testimony regarding Kathleen Willey was false.” Willey later began to claim Clinton had a hand in her husband’s death, even though her husband left behind a suicide note.

Note that there is a pattern with these claims. As political analyst Kirsten Powers put it in a column for USA Today, “Paul surely knows that no court of law ever found Clinton guilty of the accusations.”     

Peter Baker, in “The Breach,” the definitive account of the impeachment saga, reported that House investigators later found in the files of the independent prosecutor that Jones’s lawyers had collected the names of 21 different women they suspected had had a sexual relationship with Clinton. Baker described the files as “wild allegations, sometimes based on nothing more than hearsay claims of third-party witnesses.” But there were some allegations (page 138) that suggested unwelcome advances:

“One woman was alleged to have been asked by Clinton to give him oral sex in a car while he was the state attorney general (a claim she denied). A former Arkansas state employee said that during a presentation, then-Governor Clinton walked behind her and rubbed his pelvis up against her repeatedly. A woman identified as a third cousin of Clinton’s supposedly told her drug counselor during treatment in Arkansas that she was abused by Clinton when she was baby-sitting at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock.” 

But Paul can’t possibly be citing claims concerning unnamed accusers. When sexual harassment claims were made against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, Paul dismissed them because the women refused to publicly identify themselves. He said such anonymous allegations should never have been the subject of a news story. “To libel someone’s character and not put your name on it, I think is inappropriate and shouldn’t be printed,” he told the National Review.

The Pinocchio Test

Under the most generous accounting, one can find just three women who publicly came forward with claims of sexual assault, but none was ever proven in a court of law. Paul apparently also includes Lewinsky on this list, though that is debatable given she was an adult and the fact that she never claimed that she was sexually harassed. (Indeed, she testified that the whole thing started after she flashed her thong at the president.)

Paul needs to get his facts straight, rather than cavalierly toss out claims of “dozens” or “half a dozen” women publicly claiming that Clinton was a sexual predator. That’s a very serious charge to make, which he certainly recognizes from his defense of Herman Cain. The number of public claims amounts to three — and there are enough questions about each of those claims to wonder why Paul is screaming “sexual predator” in the first place.

Three Pinocchios

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