A CNN panel discussing Hillary Clinton's 1975 defense of a child rapist concluded that she worked the case only because she was forced to, even though it took her umore than 20 years to make that argument.
In Clinton’s first recorded commentary on the case, she said she took the case as a favor for a local prosecutor. In taped conversations that took place in the early 1980s, Clinton told reporter Roy Reed that she was approached by a prosecutor who told her the rapist wanted to be defended by a female lawyer.
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"A prosecutor called me years ago, said that he had a guy who was accused of rape and the guy wanted a woman lawyer—would I do it as a favor to him?" said Clinton in audio first released by the Washington Free Beacon in 2014.
The case posed a certain political liability for Clinton given the nature of her defense. In the audio she discloses, often with laughter, that she knew her client was guilty and used a legal technicality to plead her client down to virtually no prison time for his act. In her successful defense of the rapist, Clinton attacked the child as an "emotionally unstable" young girl with a "tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing."
Not mentioned during her lengthy discussion with Reed is the assertion Clinton makes in her book, published roughly 20 years later in 2003, that she resisted taking the case for moral reasons.
"[Prosecuting attorney Mahlon Gibson] called me to tell me an indigent prisoner accused of raping a twelve-year-old girl wanted a woman lawyer," wrote Clinton in Living History. "[Prosecutor Mahlon] Gibson had recommended that the criminal court judge, Maupin Cummings, appoint me. I told Mahlon I really don’t feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn’t very well refuse the judge’s request."
Clinton concludes her written account, which was the first time the story had ever been told in the expectation of wide public consumption, by saying that she and a friend "discussed setting up Arkansas's first rape hot line" shortly after the case.
The next mention of the case did not come until 2008 when reporter Glenn Thrush, then writing for Newsday, spoke to prosecutor Mahlon Gibson, who said that Clinton "didn’t want to take that case. She made that very clear."
Gibson, a registered Democrat, had a far more detailed account of the four-decades-old case.
In an interview with CNN following the recent release of the new audio, Gibson said that Clinton "got appointed to represent this guy."
"I told her, ‘Well contact the judge and see what he says about it,’ but I also said don't jump on him and make him mad," Gibson said. "She contacted the judge and the judge didn't remove her and she stayed on the case."
"Gibson said Clinton called him shortly after the judge assigned her to the case and said, ‘I don't want to represent this guy. I just can't stand this. I don't want to get involved. Can you get me off?'" reported CNN.
Gibson added his opinion that Clinton did a "heck of a job" on the case. He also added that this was the only conversation he ever had with Clinton.
"When I was a 27-year-old attorney doing legal aid work at the [University of Arkansas] where I taught in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I was appointed by the local judge to represent a criminal defendant accused of rape," she said. "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."
Politifact was unable to locate any record that Clinton was appointed by a judge to take the case.
Correction: This article originally said that Thrush was writing for Newsweek in 2008.