“Nobody in this country was worse than Bill Clinton with women. He was a disaster. He was disaster.”
— Donald Trump, remarks during a rally in Eugene, Ore., May 6, 2016
A key part of Donald Trump’s strategy to damage the image of Hillary Clinton — on track to be the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party — is to attack her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton, of course, was impeached for lying to a grand jury about an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. Trump has also highlighted unproven allegations of rape and sexual assault leveled against Clinton, mostly recently in an Instagram video that features the voices of accusers Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey.
But this is a new position for Trump. On repeated occasions over the years, he dismissed these charges against Bill Clinton as not worthy of attention. In fact, he frequently proclaimed himself to be an admirer of Clinton. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
On Dec. 27, 1997, just before the Lewinsky scandal broke, Trump appeared on CNN’s “Evans & Novak” and described himself as “very conservative” and “generally Republican.” But he said that economically, he had done well under Clinton.
“I think Bill Clinton is terrific,” Trump told Robert Novak. “I think he’s done an amazing job. I think he’s probably got the toughest skin I’ve ever seen, and I think he’s a terrific guy. I just have to view the economy and the country. I think Bill Clinton has done a terrific job. I don’t think he’s been treated very fairly, but I think he’s done a terrific job.”
The Lewinsky scandal first burst into public view a month later, on Jan. 21, 1998.
On March 15, 1998, Willey alleged on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Clinton had sexually assaulted her in the White House in 1993. (Clinton denied her allegations; an independent prosecutor concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton’s testimony regarding Kathleen Willey was false.”)
On Aug. 27, 1998, just nine days after Clinton admitted to an “inappropriate relationship” with Lewinsky, Trump appeared on CNBC and was interviewed by Chris Matthews. He praised Clinton’s handling of the economy, saying it was doing better than under Ronald Reagan.
“The best thing he has going is the fact that the economy’s doing great,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You know, they talked about the ’80s were good. The ’90s are better. I mean, the ’90s are really much better.”
Trump also expressed sympathy for Clinton’s plight, saying it was “embarrassing” and that he should have just refused to answer questions about his sex life.
“I’m not even sure that he shouldn’t have just gone in and taken the Fifth Amendment and said, ‘Look, I don’t get along with this man, [independent prosecutor Kenneth] Starr. He’s after me. He’s a Republican. He’s this, he’s that,’ and, you know, just taken the Fifth Amendment. It’s a terrible thing for a president to take the Fifth Amendment, but he probably should have done it. I don’t think he could have done any worse than what’s happened.”
Trump also attacked Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton, alleging sexual harassment: “Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly.”
There was also this exchange:
MATTHEWS: Did you ever have a flicker, when you’re taking a shower or walking to work or waking up in the morning, when you said: ‘Donald Trump, you’ve won every battle you’ve ever fought. Why don’t you run for governor? Why don’t you run for president?’ Did you ever think about that?
TRUMP: People want me to all the time.
MATTHEWS: What about you?
TRUMP: I don’t like it.
TRUMP: Can you imagine how controversial that’d be? You think about him with the women. How about me with the women? Can you imagine …
MATTHEWS: Well, you might be close, but it’d be no cigar.
TRUMP: Well, they might like my women better, too, you know.
By early 1999, Broaddrick had gone public with her allegations of a rape by Clinton 21 years earlier. Clinton’s attorney denied the allegation, and no charges were ever brought, though friends told reporters that Broaddrick had informed them of the incident at the time. Her claims were widely publicized, and some GOP lawmakers said the Broaddrick file swayed them to vote for articles of impeachment against Clinton.
In a September 1999 interview with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, Trump faulted Clinton for the way he handled the Lewinsky scandal — perhaps referring to his suggestion that Clinton should have taken the Fifth Amendment — and complained about his choice in women:
“He handled the Monica situation disgracefully. It’s sad because he would go down as a great President if he had not had this scandal. People would have been more forgiving if he’d had an affair with a really beautiful woman of sophistication. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were on a different level. Now Clinton can’t get into golf clubs in Westchester. A former President begging to get in a golf club. It’s unthinkable.”
In January 2000, when Trump was flirting with a third-party bid, he attacked Linda Tripp (who secretly recorded conversations with Lewinsky about the affair and then gave the tapes to Starr) as “the personification of evil.”
During a 2001 interview with Ginny Dougary of the Sydney Morning Herald, Trump again expressed sympathy for Clinton, arguing that the former president’s biggest mistake was answering questions about his sex life.
Trump likes Clinton, he says, and finds it all too easy to understand why the then president found it hard to answer the question: “Did you f… Monica?” “What he should have done is fought for years not to answer it. I mean, isn’t it amazing and terrible that a guy — a president — is put in that position? He could have gone down as truly great and, instead, you know, he’ll be viewed somewhat differently, which is really a shame.”
Finally, in a 2008 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump argued that Clinton should never have been impeached and that he got into trouble over “something that was totally unimportant” — in contrast to George W. Bush, who he said should have been impeached for “getting us into this horrible war [Iraq] with lies.”
The Pinocchio Test
The record shows that for years, Trump dismissed or minimized the sex allegations against Clinton, even after Willey and Broadderick went public with their claims. His main concern is that Clinton did not handle the public relations of the Lewinsky scandal right; Trump dismissed the women involved as losers and not attractive. Trump even suggested that Americans would have been more forgiving if Clinton had slept with more beautiful women.
Trump’s bottom line, even years later, was that the Clinton sex scandals were “totally unimportant.”
Now Trump claims to be shocked, shocked, shocked over Clinton’s alleged conduct. Trump earns an upside-down Pinocchio — for statements that represent a clear but unacknowledged “flip-flop” from a previously held position.
An Upside-Down Pinocchio
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