Having it both ways

If Hillary Clinton takes Bob Johnson at his word, how can she also believe that his comments were "out of bounds"?

By Tim Grieve
January 16, 2008 9:22PM (UTC)
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During Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert interrupted all the making up and putting it behind us to remind Hillary Clinton of something she'd said on "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Accusing Barack Obama of not cracking down on supporters and staffers who cross the line, Clinton said: "You know, I think that we don't want anyone, any of our supporters, anyone -- and that's why in my campaign, anytime anybody has said in my campaign, anytime anybody has said anything that I thought was out of bounds, they're gone, you know? I have gotten rid of them; I have said that is not appropriate in this campaign."


So Russert asked Clinton, Does that mean that you'll bar Bob Johnson from future campaign events for making what sure seemed to be a reference to Obama's past drug use?

"Well," Clinton said, "Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say and what he thought he had said. We accept him on his word on that. But, clearly, we want to send a very clear message to everybody that this campaign is too important for us to either get diverted or, frankly, get the message of what we want to do for our country subverted by any kind of statements or claims that are just not part of who I am or who Barack or John are."

Fair enough. Johnson did in fact put out a statement -- he said that when he referred derogatively to Obama "doing something in the neighborhood," he was referring to Obama's work as a community organizer. And in saying she'd "accept" Johnson's "word on that," Clinton tracked the line that her husband had used -- for better or for worse -- in defending Johnson Monday.


But when Russert pressed, asking Clinton whether Johnson's comments had been "out of bounds," she responded by saying, "Yes, they were. And he has said that."

Help us out here. If Clinton really takes Johnson at his word -- that is, if she believes that he was simply comparing the Clintons' commitment to civil rights with Obama's early work as a community organizer -- then how can she also believe that Johnson's comments were "out of bounds"? And if Johnson's comments were "out of bounds," why won't she bar him from future campaign events, as her Sunday pledge might suggest?

One more thing: When, exactly, did Johnson himself say that his comments were out of bounds? In the statement the Clinton campaign distributed Sunday, Johnson insisted that it would be "irresponsible and incorrect" to interpret his remarks as referring to Obama's drug use. And the last time we heard from Johnson, he was reiterating that defense in an interview with the Washington Post.


We've asked the Clinton campaign if we're missing something here; we'll let you know if we hear back.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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