Hillary Clinton weighed in on her 1975 legal defense of an accused child rapist on Saturday, her first comments on the case since it came under scrutiny following a Washington Free Beacon report last month.
Clinton spoke in clinical, legal terms while explaining her defense of the rapist, who Clinton helped to avoid a lengthy prison term by relying on a technicality relating to the chain of evidence of his blood-soaked underwear, as well as arguing at the time that the 12-year-old victim may have exaggerated or encouraged the attack.
“When you are a lawyer, you often don’t have the choice as to who you will represent, and by the very nature of criminal law there will be those who you represent that you don’t approve of,” said Clinton in an interview published on Friday with Mumsnet, an online forum for parents in the UK.
“But at least in our system you have an obligation, and once I was appointed I fulfilled that obligation,” she added.
The Free Beacon reported in June on previously unpublished audio tapes from the 1980s that revealed Clinton laughing while discussing her successful effort to secure a plea bargain for her client and suggesting she believed the 41-year-old man was guilty of rape.
“I had him take a polygraph, which he passed—which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” said Clinton, laughing.
The audio recordings are part of a collection of interviews with the Clintons conducted by Arkansas reporter Roy Reed in the 1980s, which are housed at the University of Arkansas special collections library. They were opened to the public in January.
Clinton’s defense strategy also included aggressive claims about the victim’s character, including allegations that the 12-year-old “sought out older men” and was “emotionally unstable,” according to court documents first reported by Newsday in 2008.
Clinton told Mumsnet on Friday that she was appointed to the case and petitioned the judge to remove her, but her request was denied.
“I asked to be relieved of that responsibility but I was not and I had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability, which I did,” said Clinton.
The response appears to be at odds with Clinton’s comments to Reed in the 1980s. She told Reed in the recordings that the local prosecutor, Mahlon Gibson, asked her to take the on case as a personal favor.
“The prosecutor called me a few years ago, he said he had a guy who had been accused of rape, and the guy wanted a woman lawyer,” said Clinton. “Would I do it as a favor to him?”
However, Gibson, who did not respond to earlier inquiries by the Free Beacon, told a different story to CNN. He said Clinton was appointed by the judge and did not want to take the client.
According to Gibson, Clinton called him after the appointment and asked him to help get her out of the case.
The question of why and how Clinton ended up serving as the attorney for accused child rapist Thomas Alfred Taylor in 1975 is still murky.
At the time, Clinton was running a newly formed legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which provided legal services to clients who could not afford to pay.
Taylor’s case was initially assigned to the local public defender, but, according to several accounts, Taylor insisted he wanted a female attorney instead.
Taylor “started screaming for a woman attorney,” Gibson told CNN in a June 25 interview.
However, in another June 25 interview with Talk Business & Politics, Gibson said he did not know why the public defender was replaced.
“The public defender was appointed to represent him and for some reason the public defender, I guess, wanted off or couldn’t handle it, I don’t know what the problem was there,” said Gibson.
Clinton offered yet another variation of the events leading to her taking the case in her autobiography Living History, saying the judge appointed her to the case after Gibson recommended her.
“One day the Washington County prosecuting attorney, Mahlon Gibson, called to tell me an indigent prisoner accused of raping a 12-year-old girl wanted a woman lawyer,” wrote Clinton. “Gibson had recommended that the criminal court judge, Maupin Cummings, appoint me.”
She wrote that she “didn’t feel comfortable” taking the client, but Gibson told her she could not refuse a request from the judge. Clinton had, until this weekend, never previously suggested that she actively sought to be removed as counsel.
Gibson said he had never spoken to Clinton prior to that 1975 phone call, and has not spoken to her since.
“I’ve had one conversation in my life with Hillary Clinton that I can remember, and I think that’s the only one I ever had really,” Gibson told Talk Business & Politics.
Clinton ran the local legal aid clinic in Gibson’s district from 1974 until 1977, according to biographical accounts.
Gibson did not return the Free Beacon’s requests for comment prior to publication of the “Hillary Tapes” story.
Clinton told Reed in the 1980s that she was able to strike a favorable plea agreement for her client after the prosecution lost crucial DNA evidence that linked Taylor to the crime.
Taylor was sentenced to one year in jail, with two months off for time served. He had been facing 30 years to life in prison for first-degree rape.
The University of Arkansas barred the Free Beacon from conducting research at its special collections archives after the “Hillary Tapes” story was published in June, arguing that the news outlet broke library policy by failing to get permission to publish.
Library dean Carolyn Henderson Allen, a Hillary Clinton donor, demanded in a June 17 letter that the Free Beacon “cease and desist your ongoing violation of the intellectual property rights of the University of Arkansas with regard to your unauthorized publication of audio recordings obtained from the Roy Reed Collection.”
However, the library now says it does not hold the copyright for Roy Reed’s interviews.
Reed told NWA Online that he does not object to the Free Beacon publishing excerpts from the recordings.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that. I certainly don’t object to it,” Reed said last Thursday.