As the presidential campaign unfolds, the Republican right and its assiduous enablers in the mainstream media seem determined to transform Hillary Clinton from a victim of her husband’s personal transgressions, whether real or alleged, into some kind of perpetrator.
Most such accusations against the former Secretary of State are vague at best; many are specious, fabricated political propaganda. But there is one highly specific claim against her lodged by Juanita Broaddrick, the Arkansas nursing home owner who has said that Bill Clinton raped her almost 40 years ago – and that Hillary Clinton sought to intimidate her against speaking out only weeks after that alleged assault.
In recent days Broaddrick — an avowed supporter of Donald Trump – has been attacking the Democratic presidential candidate on Breitbart.com and other right-wing media outlets. Last week she posted the claim that “Hillary tried to silence me” about the alleged rape on her Twitter account.
But as with all of Broaddrick’s sensational charges, it is hard to know what to believe about that accusation because she has also said — and perhaps sworn — precisely the opposite.
Of all the sex-based stories that have surfaced about Bill Clinton over the past 25 years, Broaddrick’s charge of a violent, felonious assault in the spring of 1978 was especially perplexing. In 1997, she gave a sworn statement to lawyers representing Paula Jones insisting that the incident never occurred. Several months later, in April 1998, under a grant of immunity from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, she insisted that it had indeed happened.
With all the resources at his disposal, including a corps of FBI agents and private investigators, Starr’s ultimate findings about the Broaddrick matter were “inconclusive.” He forwarded Broaddrick’s deposition under seal to Congress while impeachment proceedings were under way, in hopes of damaging Clinton, but he never sought to include this unambiguously impeachable offense in his official brief against the president.
Still, Starr’s apparent ambivalence didn’t dissuade Broaddrick from taking her story public. Nearly a year after she gave her testimony to the independent counsel, she appeared on NBC News Dateline for an interview with correspondent Lisa Myers.
On video, Broaddrick tearfully described her alleged encounter with Clinton, sought to explain why she had denied being raped for almost 20 years, and – in a moment that is now relevant again – affirmed that nobody had ever tried to intimidate her, when Myers asked why she had never publicly discussed the alleged incident.
From the Dateline transcript of February 24, 1999:
Lisa Myers: Did Bill Clinton or anyone near him ever threaten you, try to intimidate you, do anything to keep you silent?
Juanita Broaddrick: No.
Myers: This has been strictly your choice.
Several months later, in August 1999, Broaddrick told the Drudge Report about an encounter with Hillary Clinton at a Clinton campaign rally in her hometown, only weeks after the alleged rape. According to Broaddrick, Hillary came up to her, took her hand, and thanked her for “everything you do for Bill.” Hillary held on to her hand tightly, according to Broaddrick, and repeated the phrase, “everything you do for Bill.”
In 2003, around the time that Hillary Clinton’s memoir Living History was published, Broaddrick appeared on Fox News Channel with Sean Hannity to repeat that same story, with even more chilling overtones:
[Hillary] made her way just as quick as she could to me….I almost got nauseous when she came over to me. And she came over to me, took ahold of my hand and said “I’ve heard so much about you, I’ve been dying to meet you. I just want you to know how much that Bill and I appreciate what you do for him.” And I said thank you and started to walk away.
And this little soft-spoken – pardon me for the phrase, this dowdy woman, who seemed very unassertive – took ahold of my hand and squeezed it, and said, “Do you understand, everything that you do.”
With Hannity, Broaddrick added: “I could have passed out at that moment. And I got my hand from hers and I left…She held onto my hand and she said, do you understand? Everything that you do. And cold chills ran up my spine at that moment. That’s the first time I became afraid of that woman.”
Lisa Myers says that Broaddrick also told her about the Hillary encounter at the Clinton re-election event. But if so, that part of the interview never aired on NBC and Myers did not respond to an email inquiry about it.
Leaving aside the sinister spin, this anecdote raises a nagging journalistic question: Why did NBC air videotape of Broaddrick saying that neither Bill Clinton nor anybody “near him” – a phrase that clearly would have included his wife – had ever threatened, intimidated, or done anything to “silence” her, if she told them the opposite about Hillary Clinton?
A second nagging question is whether Broaddrick ever told Starr’s investigators about Hillary’s alleged attempt to intimidate her. Having received a grant of immunity against prosecution for perjury, did she tell them that Hillary – also a target of Starr’s investigation – had tried to “silence” her? Or did she tell the Office of Independent Counsel — as she later said on NBC — that nobody had ever done so?
The next person to interview her might ask.
Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to her introduction at a campaign event in Sioux City, Iowa, United States, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young