#MeToo founder Tarana Burke says the Clinton-Lewinsky affair was "absolutely an abuse of power"

"I think now, 20 years down the road, it’s OK to say, 'This was an abuse of power'"

Published October 17, 2018 9:35PM (EDT)

Tarana Burke (AP/Jordan Strauss)
Tarana Burke (AP/Jordan Strauss)

#MeToo founder Tarana Burke has countered Hillary Clinton's determination that the affair between former President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s was not an abuse of power.

"That is just tragic, and it's wrong," Burke told The Root of Clinton's belief that, because Lewinsky "was an adult," the affair did not encompass a power imbalance.

"You’re talking about an age dynamic, but you’re also talking about the president of the United States," she continued. "The amount of power – the amount of accumulated power that is in that position alone, versus an intern – it's absolutely an abuse of power."

During an interview with CBS on Sunday, Clinton offered no new revelations or reflections of her husband's infamous affair. She said he was right to not resign over the scandal and that the relationship was not an abuse of power. Clinton was 49 years old, while Lewinsky was 22 years old when the two-year affair began.

Burke did not deny that the relationship was consensual – a fact that Lewinsky has stated many times herself – but argued that two consenting adults does not erase the context of which the affair took place nor the effect of Clinton's unequal position of power.

"The affair and what happened was consensual, and I recognize that. I think we all recognize that," she said. "Monica herself has said that this was consensual, but it certainly is an abuse of power."

READ MORE: Feminists won't back down: What's next for #MeToo after the Kavanaugh vote?

"It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t used as a moment to be accountable," Burke continued. "We need to see what different models of accountability look like."

Aside from Clinton being wrong in her analysis, Burke also said that this was a real missed opportunity to "show examples of accountability."

"I think now, 20 years down the road, it’s OK to say, 'This was an abuse of power.' It doesn’t mean that he had to step down from his position, but it was an abuse of power that I’m sure he regrets,'" she said. "There’s nothing wrong with saying that."

Instead, in the interview, Clinton pivoted from her husband's presidential scandal to the many sexual assault allegations levied at the current president and worthy of independent investigation, which was undermined by Clinton's obvious deflection.

My colleague Sophia Tesfaye wrote for Salon: "It’s unfair, not to mention profoundly sexist, that Hillary Clinton has had to endure two decades of questions about her husband’s behavior. But the way she chooses to respond to the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Bill Clinton warrants scrutiny, and her unapologetic attitude is hardly the way to move on."

Reflecting on 20 years since the affair was outed and investigated in 1998, Lewinsky herself, wrote about how the #MeToo movement has allowed her to evaluate the relationship with Clinton in a new light. "I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent," she wrote for Vanity Fair earlier this year. "Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege. (Full stop.)"

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Bill Clinton Donald Trump Hillary Clinton #metoo #metoo Movement Monica Lewinsky Power Tarana Burke