Hillary Clinton has championed the rights of women for decades. Thats why her tone on this tape from the 1980s is so problematic.
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  • Hillary Clinton has championed the rights of women for decades. That's why her tone on this tape from the 1980s is so problematic.

The conservative Washington Free Beacon published an audio interview with Hillary Clinton from the early-to-mid 1980s about a case that Clinton tried as an attorney. In 1975, the Beacon says, Clinton served as "the court-appointed attorney for Thomas Alfred Taylor, a 41-year-old accused of raping [a 12-year-old girl] after luring her into a car." On the tape, which is embedded as a YouTube video below, Clinton relates some anecdotes from the case and makes a couple of jokes along the way. At one point, Clinton laughs after saying she "“had [Taylor] take a polygraph, which he passed—which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs." The case ended with a plea bargain, Clinton explains: "Got him off with time served in the county jail. He’d been in the county jail for about two months."

The Daily Beast today published a new interview with the alleged victim in the case with the headline "'Hillary Clinton Took Me Through Hell,' Rape Victim Says." The woman, who does not remember meeting Clinton at the time of the trial, was asked what she would say to Clinton if she met her today:

“I would say [to Clinton], ‘You took a case of mine in ’75, you lied on me… I realize the truth now, the heart of what you’ve done to me. And you are supposed to be for women? You call that [being] for women, what you done to me? And I hear you on tape laughing."

This is such a complicated issue. Clinton was a lawyer, and lawyers are required to defend their clients to the best of their ability, even if they think their clients are guilty. Unless you have a problem with the concept that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty, it's disingenuous to argue that Clinton shouldn't have done her job. The prosecutors should've done a better job. If you listen to the tape, it sounds pretty obvious that the forensics team definitely should've done a better job. But we can't start arguing that defendants should sabotage their clients if they truly believe their clients are guilty; that's basically an argument for the end of civilization as we know it.

The difficult part of this story is Clinton making light of the case in the interview. Anyone who's friends with a doctor or a lawyer understands that people develop dark senses of humor as a coping mechanisms when they deal with terrible situations all day long, but it's still a jarring thing to hear. It certainly makes me think less of Clinton as a person, but I don't think that bragging and using humor to discuss a situation at a remove of a decade or so is the smoking gun that the Free Beacon thinks it is. This tape doesn't invalidate Clinton's decades of work on defending the rights of women across the globe, and it certainly doesn't make the conservative record on women's rights any stronger. But it is personally damaging; Clinton needs to talk about this, and fast. Through then-spokesman Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign addressed the case in 2008, according to Politico:

“As she wrote in her book, ‘Living History,’ Senator Clinton was appointed by the Circuit Court of Washington County, Arkansas to represent Mr. Taylor in this matter,” Wolfson said at the time. “As an attorney and an officer of the court, she had an ethical and legal obligation to defend him to the fullest extent of the law. To act otherwise would have constituted a breach of her professional responsibilities.”

An antiseptic comment like that isn't going to address the blitheness of the audio tape. Clinton needs to get on the record about this very soon.