Hillary Clinton’s Handling of 1975 Rape Case Emerges Again

Jun 20, 2014 2:20pm
AP Hillary Clinton ml 140530 16x9 608 Hillary Clintons Handling of 1975 Rape Case Emerges Again

Cliff Owen/AP Photo

UPDATED

Hillary Clinton’s successful 1975 legal defense of an accused rapist has surfaced again with the victim, angered over a tape of Clinton chuckling over her courtroom tactics in the case, lashing out at the potential Democratic presidential candidate.

“Hillary Clinton took me through hell,” the victim told the Daily Beast in an emotional interview published today. The woman said that if she saw Clinton today she would say, “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 heard you on tape laughing.”

The name of the woman, who is now 52, was withheld for privacy reasons. She decided to speak out after hearing never-before-heard audio tapes released by the Washington Free Beacon earlier this week of Hillary Clinton talking about the trial. In the recordings, dubbed the “Hillary Tapes,” Clinton is heard laughing as she describes how she succeeded at getting her client a lighter sentence, despite suggesting she knew he was guilty.

“He took a lie-detector test! I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” Clinton said about her client on the tapes, which were initially recorded, but never used, in the early 1980s.

The rape case has been investigated more than once, but with Clinton considering a presidential run, it is again commanding headlines.

Here are some questions and answers about why the 1975 trial is in the news again, details of the case and what it could mean for Clinton:

How did this all start?

Clinton graduated from Yale Law School in 1973. The following year she moved with her then-boyfriend Bill Clinton to Little Rock, Ark., where she took a job at the University of Arkansas Law School. In 1975, at the age of 27, she took the case representing Thomas Alfred Taylor, 41, who was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Taylor, who was charged with first degree rape, had requested a female attorney. Hillary Clinton defended him and got him a lesser charge of unlawful fondling of a minor under the age of 14. According to a Newsday investigation, what should have been a five-year sentence, was reduced to four years of probation and a year in county jail, with two months taken off for time he had already served.

What has Hillary Clinton said about the trial?

Hillary Clinton wrote about the trial in her 2003 autobiography, “Living History.” In the book, Clinton defended taking on the client, saying that while at first she “didn’t feel comfortable,” she realized that as an attorney she had “an ethical and legal obligation to defend him to the fullest extent of the law.” She described how as his lawyer she was able to hire a New York-based forensics expert who “cast doubt on the evidentiary value of semen and blood samples collected by the sheriff’s office.” Clinton wrote that her experience from the trial is what led her to set up Arkansas’ first rape hotline.

Did Clinton take the case voluntarily or was she appointed by the court?

In “Living History,” Clinton wrote that the criminal court judge appointed her, and that she “couldn’t very well refuse the judge’s request.” The 2008 Newsday story quotes then-Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson who refers to her as being “appointed by the Circuit Court of Washington County.” However, in the newly-released audio tapes Clinton says a prosecutor for the case asked to take the case “as a favor to him.”

What else has been written about it?

In 2008, during the height of her presidential primary campaign, Newsday published an in-depth story about Clinton’s involvement with the trial. Newsday argued that Clinton’s account in “Living History” left out “a significant aspect of her defense strategy – attempting to impugn the credibility of the victim.” She reportedly sent an affidavit during the trial requesting the girl undergo a psychiatric examination at the university’s clinic, and without offering any source, alleged that the victim had often sought older men. The case, Newsday claimed, “offers a glimpse into the way Clinton deals with crisis. Her approach, then and now, was to immerse herself in even unpleasant tasks with a will to win.”

Why are we hearing about this again?

On Sunday evening, the conservative news site the Washington Free Beacon released audio which they had uncovered from the Clinton archives at the University of Arkansas. In the tapes, from over 30 years ago, Clinton describes how she was able to find a loophole in the system to discredit the evidence against her client. She is heard laughing as she describes the tactics she used to do so. The recordings prompted the victim of the trial to speak out for the first time in years.

When was the last time the rape victim spoke?

Newsday interviewed the victim six years ago for their 2008 story. In it, the victim described how she had three decades of severe depression and other personal problems following the assault, and disputed claims that Clinton had once made in court against her. “It’s not true, I never sought out older men. I was raped,” the woman said. But, she added, “I have to understand that she was representing Taylor. I’m sure Hillary was just doing her job.”

The victim, with re-opened wounds, gave an angrier account to the Daily Beast in her recent interview: “When I heard that tape I was pretty upset,” she said in the interview published today. “I went back to the room and was talking to my two cousins and I cried a little bit. I ain’t gonna lie, some of this has got me pretty down. But I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to stand up to her. I’m going to stand up for what I’ve got to stand up for, you know?”

Will this affect Clinton’s presidential aspirations?

Who knows. It’s still only 2014 and a lot more can happen in two years. But this is one early example of how Republican groups are digging into Clinton’s past, finding any way they can to discredit her as she mulls a presidential run.

Democrats will be quick to point out that this story has been addressed in the past, and that Clinton was just doing her job. “This is the case of a young attorney who was told by a judge to defend an indigent client accused of a crime. She not only carried out her legal and ethical responsibility to defend her client, but she went on to lead historic action in the fight against rape and to bring rapists to justice,” Adrienne Elrod, the communications director for the pro-Hillary group Correct Record, told ABC News.

Nevertheless, it might be the way Clinton talked  – and laughed – about the trial in the audio tapes, rather than her decision to defend him that people could find off-putting. And Tim Miller, of the Republican opposition group America Rising, feels that this story is fair game. “If and when Hillary decides to run for president her record is going to be scrutinized anew and stories about how she has conducted herself in positions of power will certainly be germane to the campaign,” Miller told ABC News.

Has the Hillary-team said anything about this recently?

Not a word. ABC News has reached out to Clinton’s team for comment.

UPDATED: An earlier version of this story described Clinton as Taylor’s court-appointed attorney. The story has been changed to reflect the difference between what Clinton wrote in her memoir, “Living History,” and what she is heard saying on the newly-released audio records. A discussion of this difference has been added above. 

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