Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after having a relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the most prominent liberal to weigh in as the issue has moved from conservative media to a wider chorus of voices in recent days.
Gillibrand said she thought it would have been “the appropriate response,” when asked by a reporter if Clinton should have stepped down. The comments were published Thursday by the New York Times and drew responses from Hillary Clinton and a former Clinton aide.
Attention on Clinton’s treatment of women — most of the allegations well over 20 years old — was resurrected by some conservative media outlets during the presidential campaign after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged showing Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women. Trump later brought some of Clinton’s accusers to a presidential debate.
In recent weeks, unreported sexual misconduct and harassment allegations have been brought against figures in Hollywood, media, technology and politics, on all sides of the political spectrum.
Last week, after a Washington Post report detailed an accusation that Alabama’s Republican Senate hopeful, Roy Moore, initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old decades before, some liberal commentators returned to Clinton’s behavior, spurred by what many said was a sense of responsibility in the wake of a national discussion about sexual aggression, harassment and assault committed by powerful men.
“The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton,” Caitlin Flanagan wrote in the Atlantic. “The party needs to come to terms with the fact that it was so enraptured by their brilliant, Big Dog president and his stunning string of progressive accomplishments that it abandoned some of its central principles. The party was on the wrong side of history, and there are consequences for that.”
Matt Iglesisas, a correspondent at Vox, laid out a detailed 2,200 word argument outlining the reasons Clinton should have resigned. “Had he resigned in shame, we all might have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught leveraging power over women in inappropriate ways ought to be fired,” he wrote. “Instead, we lost nearly two decades.”
In an interview with WABC radio on Friday, Hillary Clinton said that she didn’t “exactly know what” Gillibrand was trying to say.
Philippe Reines, a longtime former Clinton aide and confidant, quickly attacked Gillibrand for the remark, saying that Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Lewinsky investigation, spent $70 million on a consensual act and that the Senate voted then to keep Bill Clinton in office.
“But not enough for you @SenGillibrand? Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday. “Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”
Gillibrand struck back on Friday.
“It’s ridiculous and he’s wrong,” she said in an interview on MSNBC. “Bill Clinton did very important things for this country. But my point is about this conversation we are having today and that we need to have the highest standards for elected leaders and we have to change what is happening throughout society and we have to allow people to tell their stories.”
Fox News has noticed the outpouring of liberal hand-wringing about the Clintons. “The left turns on Bill Clinton, Biden over behavior toward women,” read a headline this week.
Occasional Trump adviser and conservative media host Sean Hannity called Clinton the left’s “favorite accused rapist and serial philanderer,” and surmised that the reckoning was potentially a cynical ploy “to look consistent when they go after Roy Moore, whose alleged transgressions pale in comparison.”
Many conservative sites have focused coverage on sexual misconduct scandals by liberal celebrities and figures while downplaying controversies surrounding Trump and those on the right: the day that the first charges were announced in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, sites like New York Post and Infowars focused on accusations against the actor Kevin Spacey, for example.
On Thursday, Breitbart’s homepage was dominated by headlines that played up the allegations about Democratic Sen. Al Franken, which had been disclosed earlier in the day. Multiple stories the site published about Roy Moore sought to sow doubt about the accusations against him.
The Fox story pinpointed the Clinton pivot to a tweet by MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who last Friday wrote that “as gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right’s ‘What about Bill Clinton’ stuff is, it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.’ ”
Gillibrand said that she felt the context had changed since Clinton was in office.
“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” she said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.”