This week, the so-called "Hillary tapes" — recordings of Hillary Clinton discussing defending a child rapist early in her career — were again discussed publicly when a conservative outlet claimed to "unearth" them. Other right-wing media pounced, claiming that the tapes were newly discovered (they're not) and that they depicted Hillary Clinton "laughing at a rape victim" (they don't; she's laughing at the stupidity of polygraphs as a means to determine guilt). The tapes aren't the most interesting part of the story here. The story is in the affidavit discussed in the tapes, of the way Clinton, then a young attorney, disparaged a 12-year-old rape victim, and how the "best legal defense" for rapists further traumatize and harm their victims.
The case, as Kate mentioned earlier this week, is stomach churning. In 1975, Thomas Alfred Taylor allegedly went on a group outing with the 12-year-old victim, a 15-year-old boy, and others. When the 15-year-old boy and the 12-year-old girl were left alone in the truck, the boy and girl had sex (which may or may not have been consensual, according to this in-depth NewsDay report on the case from 2008). Following their encounter, Taylor returned to the truck and raped the girl. The girl sought medical care and examiners found that she had injuries consistent with rape.
Taylor, thinking a jury would find him more sympathetic if he was represented by a female attorney, requested a woman try the case, and a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham agreed to take him on as a client after a judge asked her to. Clinton's obligation as an attorney was to provide her client, who she later admitted on the tapes she knew was guilty, with the best legal defense possible. But Clinton's "best legal defense" involved disparaging the rape victim. Here's more on that.
"I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing," wrote Rodham, without referring to the source of that allegation. "I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body."
According to an investigator on the case, there was no evidence that the girl had made any prior false accusations.
When the 2008 Clinton campaign was asked to respond, a spokesperson said,
"As she wrote in her book, 'Living History,' Senator Clinton was appointed by the Circuit Court of Washington County, Arkansas to represent Mr. Taylor in this matter," he said. "As an attorney and an officer of the court, she had an ethical and legal obligation to defend him to the fullest extent of the law. To act otherwise would have constituted a breach of her professional responsibilities."
Providing legal defense to clients is what defense attorneys do. That is their job. But just because Clinton was being particularly aggressive in doing her job doesn't mean that her job didn't end up leaving a woman traumatized for decades. And it doesn't mean that the par-for-the-course legal defense for rapists often involves throwing victims' character under the bus, personal consequences be damned. Even self-proclaimed champion for women and girls Hillary Rodham couldn't separate herself from the bullshit.
In a 2008 interview for the Newsday piece, the now-adult victim in the case said that she blamed Taylor for sending her into a spiral of depression that has lasted for much of her life. But she doesn't blame Clinton, she said at the time.
With all the anguish she'd felt over the case in the years since, there was one thing she never realized - that the lawyer for the man she reviles was none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I have to understand that she was representing Taylor," she said when interviewed in prison last fall. "I'm sure Hillary was just doing her job."
The victim wouldn't say anything of substance to the folks at the Washington Free Beacon who originally tried to make The Hillary Tapes happen, but she did speak to someone else. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast published today, the victim pulled a 180, telling reporter Josh Rogin that now that she knows Clinton knew Taylor was guilty while defending him, she's incensed that Clinton "lied like a dog" to her and attempted to disparage the sexual reputation of a tween. It sounds like her life was actually pretty shattered as a result of that case.
She described being afraid of men for years and dealing with anger issues well into her adulthood. At one point, she turned to drugs, a path that ultimately led her to prison. Now 52, she has never married or had children. She said she has been sober for several years and has achieved a level of stability, although she remains unemployed and living on disability assistance.
Rogin says the Clinton camp hasn't responded to this new round of scrutiny about the case.
On one hand, Clinton was stuck in a pretty awful spot — 27, trying to prove herself as an attorney, and not exactly in any sort of position to refuse a case assignment from a judge in a state far away from her home. And legal experts quoted in all accounts of the case agree that Clinton didn't go too far in advocating for her client. She was being a lawyer, they say.
On the other hand, how massively fucked is it that our legal system expects and encourages attorneys to treat rape victims like this? And that even Hillary Clinton didn't have the balls to set her career goals aside for a moment and stand up to what she must have known was bullshit, even in the midst of a time in her career she claims was devoted to serving children and families?
When I first heard news of this story, my reaction was that it's not going to matter to 2016, that the tapes weren't a big deal since they'd been heard before, and that it's slightly suspect that the party of "legitimate rape" was suddenly and insurmountably and obsessively interested in the well being of a poor former drug addict (not exactly the demographic right wingers have a rep for being sympathetic toward) who was raped in 1975. Which, I suppose, speaks to how cynical I am about the news, about how it's all driving a narrative, how everyone has an agenda, and how, as a liberal commie Obamabot tree hugging abortion machine, my job is to bristle at the narrative if it's coming from a person who I normally disagree with.
But absorbing and responding to a story doesn't necessitate buying the narrative that's being packaged with the story. Hillary Clinton didn't "laugh at a rape victim" as the coverage errantly insists, but she definitely was the sort of lawyer who would attack the credibility of a rape victim in pursuit of legal victory. And she came up through a system that, at least until recently, would as a matter of course accuse women and girls who were raped of being precocious and sexy and kind of wanting it anyway and also maybe crazy without anyone batting an eye. Hillary Clinton ruining one woman's life with a character attack during a rape case is nothing compared to the way some men on the right, if they had their druthers, would gleefully ruin many American women's lives with policy, but it doesn't mean this story doesn't matter, or that it shouldn't be discussed.
If we're going to have a positive takeaway from this story, it's that things are different now, media is faster, hungrier, and more resources are available to women like Taylor's victim. I'd imagine if details of Thomas Alfred Taylor's case reached the right media folk today, Clinton would have been backpedaling faster than that judge in Montana who called a rape victim "older than her chronological age."
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