Kerry Defends Ted Kennedy: 'He Stood up and Owned Moments Where He Knew He Stepped Over the Line'

October 2, 2018

Former Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday defended the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) from multiple scandals, including abandoning the scene of a car accident resulting in his female passenger drowning and at least one sexual assault allegation, by saying he "stood up and owned moments where he knew he stepped over the line."

Kerry, who formerly served as a senator in Massachusetts, appeared on CNN's "The Lead," where he discussed his new book, Every Day is Extra, and pushed back against host Jake Tapper's question about whether Democrats have held people like Kennedy and former Democratic President Bill Clinton accountable for their actions.

Following an exchange about sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has denied all claims, Tapper asked Kerry about Kennedy and Clinton.

"I've heard Ted Kennedy's name invoked in the last week or two and Bill Clinton's name invoked in the last week or two by conservatives saying Democrats seeded the moral high ground on a lot of these sexual assault and sexual harassment issues by standing by people like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy because of the good things in their view that they did," Tapper said.

Kerry pushed back by saying that "many of us were critical" of Clinton and then pivoted to talk about how he personally did not believe Clinton's actions were impeachable. Clinton's sexual relationship in the 1990s with Monica Lewinsky, who was a young White House intern at the time, led to impeachment proceedings against the 42nd president when he was caught lying under oath.

Tapper followed up by asking him about Kennedy, prompting Kerry to say that people have also been critical of his actions, adding that Kennedy was critical of himself.

"He stood up and owned moments where he knew he'd stepped over the line, so I think that—and he wasn't about to be nominated to a lifetime position," Kerry said. "In fact, he said to the people of Massachusetts, if you think I shouldn't stay here, then, you know—he took those returns and then he was elected another six times."

As a young U.S. senator, Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a bridge late on July 18, 1969, into a tidal channel while taking political staffer Mary Jo Kopechne home from a party. Following the accident, Kennedy swam to safety, and he later said that he made repeated efforts to try to rescue Kopechne, but she died in the car, possibly of suffocation. Kennedy did not report the accident to authorities until the following morning, when the car and Kopechne's body were discovered.

Kennedy called his actions "indefensible," but he would only plead guilty to leaving the scene of the accident, which resulted in a suspended sentence.

In addition to the accident, he was accused of sexually assaulting a waitress in 1985 at a Georgetown restaurant. The Washington Free Beacon previously reported on a GQ profile on Kennedy, including anecdotes about him and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) sexually assaulting a waitress while drinking in a private dining room.

"As Gaviglio enters the room, the six-foot-two, 225-plus-pound Kennedy grabs the five-foot-three, 103-pound waitress and throws her on the table. She lands on her back, scattering crystal, plates and cutlery and the lit candles," wrote the late journalist Michael Kelly in 1990. "Kennedy then picks her up from the table and throws her on Dodd, who is sprawled in a chair. With Gaviglio on Dodd's lap, Kennedy jumps on top and begins rubbing his genital area against hers, supporting his weight on the arms of the chair."

"Bruised, shaken and angry over what she considered a sexual assault, Gaviglio runs from the room," Kelly wrote. "Kennedy, Dodd and their dates leave shortly thereafter, following a friendly argument between the senators over the check."