Recently I’ve come across an old rightwing lie I hadn’t seen in a while, in a few different places on the internet. You might guess, yes, it’s about Hillary.
It’s one of those you might call a “lie-plex”—a multidimensional deception connecting multiple lies, often stringing together a narrative fiction.
In 1975 Hillary acted as defense counsel to a 40-year-old man charged with the crime of rape. The victim was a 12-year-old girl. And there seems to have been a consensus that, yes, he did what he was accused of doing.
The lying rightwing version is that Hillary volunteered to be a rapist’s legal advocate, that Hillary ruthlessly took aim at the 12-year-old victim and “made her life hell,” that looking back Hillary laughed about how she was able to free a child rapist.
This one goes the way of most of the right’s allegations against Hillary Clinton. The accusation of wrongdoing proves a far more damning indictment of her accusers than of their target. i
“She got appointed to represent this guy,” says the man who prosecuted the rapist.
Hillary recoiled at the prospect, and she resisted doing it. She sought out the prosecutor to see if there was anything he could do to get her off the hook. He couldn’t. She went back to the judge who appointed her and respectfully requested to be removed.
Hillary’s adversary throughout the legal proceedings was interviewed by CNN. Mahlon Gibson, the prosecuting attorney, recounted Clinton calling him and saying,
“‘I don’t want to represent this guy. I just can’t stand this. I don’t want to get involved. Can you get me off?’”
That didn’t stop Hillary from trying again. The prosecutor, continuing:
“I told her, ‘Well contact the judge and see what he says about it,’ but I also said don’t jump on him and make him mad.”
The judge was Maupin Cummings. He’d originally appointed her to the case. The way it played out,
“She contacted the judge and the judge didn’t remove her and she stayed on the case.”
So she had no choice but to defend this client, in this criminal case. In order for any system of justice, ours beginning with the United States Constitution, to guarantee protection of the wrongfully accused, or to put it another way, in order for society to have built-in a priori protections of the wrongfully accused, Due Process must be blind to the particulars of any case and accord the same rights to all accuseds, including the right of counsel and all of the duties entails entailed in representing the accused.
Representing the accused’s side of the story is what defense attorneys do, in virtue of being defense attorneys, which is to say, this is what defense attorneys have to do. Public defenders cannot not relay the accused’s side of the story. This is why the only way anyone could’ve gotten Hillary to take on this case was to get her to take it on involuntarily, against her will.
Thomas Alfred Taylor told his lawyer a story which tried to—what else?—discredit the accuser. He told her that the victim was not psychologically stable, had sexual fantasies of older men, and had made false rape allegations before.
Even when Hillary Rodham relayed her client’s claims to the court, in a paragraph of a pretrial motion, she relayed what her client had told her as what her client had told her—not as fact. She did not represent any claim made by her client as an unqualified statement of fact.
Thomas Taylor inflicted severe and enduring physical and psychological harm on his victim. No one shall be heard to say that the victim’s feelings today are invalid. We should be clear when she is quoted as saying, “Hillary Clinton put me through hell,” though, that she does not mean that she was cross-examined by Hillary Clinton or that she was publicly defamed, or that horrible allegations were leveled against her in open court.
The case did not go to trial. She did not testify about what happened to her or answer questions under cross-examination. The defense requested that she have a psychological evaluation, which would have been conducted at the University of Arkansas Psychology Clinic. It does not appear that the psychiatric evaluation ever happened.
Regardless, one would have been entirely appropriate considering the alternative. An independent psychological assessment conducted in a clinical setting by clinicians would have been vastly superior than going straight to trial, putting the child in a courtroom and handing the task over to lawyers, leaving cross-examination as the only opportunity to air the defendant’s claims.
The victim’s bitterness toward her assailant’s able defender is all too understandable. It is an ugly reality of a case like this. These sorts of reverberations are inevitable as long as the accused have the right to assistance of counsel and there are juries or plea-bargaining prosecutors who aren’t confident that the evidence is strong enough to convict.
No, she did not laugh about how the case turned out. God knows she did not make light of the what happened to the victim.
Years later, the case came up during an audiotaped interview, at least 6 minutes of which are available online. Hillary does not laugh at the outcome at any time during the audio. At no point is there even slightest hint that she took any form of pleasure in the way the case turned out. No pride, no gratification—there isn’t even a sense of whether she was agreeable to the final disposition of the case.
Nearly a decade after-the-fact, she was able to talk about it with detachment, and in two different moments, was able to laugh at the irony and absurdity of defending a guilty client while talking about the case. The client passed a polygraph (“which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs”); a Nobel-prize winning forensic examiner disparaged what he saw of the prosecution’s evidence and would testify for the defense (“to prevent this miscarriage of justice”). Go ahead, psychoanalyze away. Spare me the idea than this offers a window into her soul.
Take the next hour or so, and imagine how a conversation might have gone between Hillary Rodham and Allida Black. In 1975, the year of the Taylor case, Allida Black had been working to set up a Rape Crisis Center in Atlanta. “I was trying to navigate the legal issues related to child assault victims, but the law was so new, I was lost, so I asked for help. Everywhere I called, the experts would say, ‘Do you know Hillary Rodham? She’s who you need to talk to.’”
Indeed, around the same time, in the months after Taylor, Hillary herself helped to found the first woman’s Rape Crisis Center in the area.ii
Clinton haters seem to mentally roll their eyes and breeze right past mentions of fact like these. As if? As if, ‘so she helped found the first Rape Crisis Center within hundreds of miles… big deal, if you haven’t done something like set-up up a rape counseling center before you’re 30, you’ve accomplished nothing in your life.’
As if, ‘so what she helped establish a Rape Crisis Center—how does that show that she cares about rape victims?’
As if, what? She traveled to 1975 and set up a rape hotline to save face for getting that rapist off. Because “everybody knows” Hillary Clinton is nothing more than an opportunist.
One of the most insidious effects of the decades of rightwing attacks on the Clintons is that its toxins have seeped into the psyches of large numbers on the progressive left, and we’re to the point some on the left vilify and malign her as much as many on the right.
I don’t know the original source of this rightwing lie-plex. Or the first iteration of the story as an internet meme. These things tend emerge from somewhere in the dark recesses of rightwing cyberspace. Like folklore, or messages relayed in a game of “telephone,” the story takes on accidental properties as it is transmitted from one person to the next, and is told with some variation.
Which brings me to this case study. In an essay posted on this website, speaking of powerful men who enable rapists, the author wrote
. . . Hell, they’ll even hire women to get rapists off the hook, like when an Arkansas judge hired a young public defender named Hillary Clinton to stand in defense of a 40-year-old man who had raped a then 12-year-old girl.
Hillary, who was “just doing what she had been told”, hid evidence containing the victim’s DNA and fabricated testimony in which she portrayed the victim as the town slut. Yes, this is the same Hillary Clinton who is now campaigning as a “champion for women”. Go ahead, look it up.
“Go ahead, look it up.” I already had. I already knew basically what I’ve written so far, so you might imagine what I was thinking as I was reading bullshit being dumped all over the truth. But I looked into the facts and circumstances of the case again (and spent entirely too much time reviewing audiotape and photocopied court records), which eventually led to me writing this. And the clearer the picture got, the more grotesque the rightwing lie proved to be. This is just one sloppy regurgitation of it.
As the reader knows by now, she was not “hired” by a judge to defend a rapist.(Note that the claim, on its face, if you think about it for more than 2 seconds, makes no sense and must have been made thoughtlessly.) You get hired when you willingly accept a job offer to be compensated in exchange for performing the job’s duties. That is not what happened. A judge ordered her to do something she did unwillingly.
Hillary never held a job as a public defender, nor a private criminal defense attorney. She was court-ordered to act as public defender in this case—against her will, over her objections, and after express requests to be removed from the case.
Here is a little more of the interview former prosecutor Mahlon Gibson gave to CNN around the time this rightwing smear was making the rounds again:
Taylor was assigned a public defender in the case but Gibson said he quickly “started screaming for a woman attorney” to
Gibson said Clinton called him shortly after the judge assigned her to the case and said, “I don’t want to represent this guy. I just can’t stand this. I don’t want to get involved. Can you get me off?”
“I told her, ‘Well contact the judge and see what he says about it,’ but I also said don’t jump on him and make him mad,” Gibson said. “She contacted the judge and the judge didn’t remove her and she stayed on the case.”
Gibson said this was likely the only conversation he had with Clinton and said they have not once been in touch since the case.
What were her alternatives at that point, then? Refuse a judge’s order? How would that have played out? I am not certain, but I presume she could have been held in contempt of court. Certainly faced disciplinary action from the Arkansas bar.
One of the main problems with the civil disobedience route is that it would not be without serious consequences beyond herself. It would have impaired her ability to do the work she had willingly devoted herself to doing. It would be naïve to assume that she could have defied a judge’s order—a judge in a small town she would have to deal with many times—and walk right back to the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law and resume work as if was no big thing.
She could have thrown the case and gotten disbarred. I imagine the snipers on the left would be appalled if due process in this country countenanced willfully ineffective assistance of counsel at the discretion of at the defense counsel appointed to defend criminal defendants who couldn’t afford an attorney of their own.
Hillary Clinton is not one to do things half-assed. And when this workaholic was coerced into putting her legal skill to work in this case, she followed through. It is nevertheless understandable that someone might be uncomfortable with just how effectively she did represent her client. Without question though, she was entirely professionally ethical. Was what she did immoral on some more elemental level? Ask yourself first, what kind of society we want to live in. Suppose the law permitted deliberately providing substandard representation, at the discretion of defense counsel appointed to represent indigent clients whose life and liberty were in jeopardy. This would be unequivocally unacceptable.
How’d she end up in that bind, then, though, exactly? Hillary Clinton’s name, which was then Hillary Rodham, was on a list of lawyers willing to represent poor clients. When the man insisted on a female lawyer, Arkansas judge Maupin Cummings turned to the list and picked her out to represent the defendant.
Defending indigent monsters is not exactly what she had in mind, but in this singular twist of fate, she was stuck with that unintended consequence of her willingness to defend indigent clients.
Hillary smearing the victim as the “town slut”? No, there was no slut-shaming, no victim-blaming by the defense. Nothing that would make this case conform to the mental template of Hillary Clinton. Ipso facto the claim that Hillary “fabricated testimony” to that effect cannot be true (my italics).
And for godssake, “hid” evidence? Nothing in the case remotely resembles an attempt to conceal the existence of incriminating evidence to hide it from the prosecution or the court.
Now, the prosecution did make a weak attempt withhold evidence from the defense, and while I can only guess, this may be the same evidence the author was referring to. Rodham had to petition the judge to issue an order for the prosecution to turn it over to her. The prosecution’s resistance was understandable. One of its main pieces of evidence was the defendant’s underwear, which had blood on it. The crime lab examined it for trace evidence by cutting a piece of fabric and testing it—and then disposing of it.
So when it was turned over the defense, Rodham took what was left—an undergarment surrounding a hole where the most crucial evidence had been—to a man who had a hefty science-based C.V. and a reputation for swaying juries. He concluded that what was left had no probative value and would have testified as such. The prosecution was cornered and agreed to plea bargain.
There are some important side-notes here.
It is telling that the author’s misattribution of the rapist’s victim-blaming to Hillary happens also to misstate the defendant’s claims (“town slut” wasn’t his theme). So, too, is the fact that the author conflates a paragraph of a motion written by a lawyer as “testimony.” And that the false allegation of hiding evidence refers to “DNA” evidence. In 1975. There was no such thing as genetic fingerprinting in 1975. More than a decade would pass before the first instance of forensic DNA testing being used in any criminal case in any court anywhere in the world.
These are secondary to the principal inaccuracies, but they are additional examples of the kind of reckless disregard for facts that Hillary haters have. “Everybody knows” Hillary is awful. Why sweat the details?
But, no. It matters that Hillary Clinton was not the hired gun for a child rapist. It matters that Hillary Clinton did not suborn perjury. It matters that Hillary Clinton did not obstruct justice by trying to hide evidence.
Left to her own initiative to act of her own will, she helped found the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Arkansas.
Left to her own initiative to act of her own will, after the case, she helped start a rape crisis center in the town.
Go ahead. Look it up.
(Among other references, try Carl Bernstein’s lengthy, extensively sourced 2007 biography of Clinton; Bernstein, of ‘Woodward and Bernstein’ fame, is no pro-Hillary partisan.)
There is cause for moral revulsion here. But not as a response to anything Hillary Clinton said or did. This punctuates an ongoing theme. What is morally reprehensible is vilifying a woman for committing wrongs that she did not, in fact, commit. It’s made all the more a never-ending demonization of a good person, barely recognizable from the evil villain she is portrayed to be.