We Evaluate the Strength of Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Bill Clinton
Stories of President Bill Clinton‘s alleged extra-marital sexual encounters have been rampant since his first term as Commander-in-Chief. Some were claims allegations of consensual affairs (Monica Lewinsky, Gennifer Flowers, Dollie Kyle Browning, Elizabeth Ward Gracen). Some were confirmed or partially confirmed by Clinton himself (Lewinsky, Flowers). But those stories seem innocent compared to allegations that some made against the former President. Three women in particular drew national attention when they accused of Clinton of aggressively pursuing or forcing sexual activity without consent. Here, we’ll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
1. Paula Jones
Paula Jones brought a sexual harassment case against Clinton on May 6, 1994 with a detailed allegation involving an encounter at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 8, 1991. She filed the lawsuit days before the three-year statute of limitations would have barred her claim. Jones claimed that she arranged to meet then-Governor Clinton in a hotel room that was “furnished as a business suite,” while they were there for the annual Governor’s Quality Management Conference. Jones said in her complaint that after some small talk, Clinton took her hand and pulled her close to him, then tried to touch and kiss her, and she backed away. She said Clinton then dropped his pants and demanded oral sex.
Clinton denied the allegations, and even said he didn’t remember meeting Jones.
After years of legal battles involving whether or not the case could move forward while Clinton was in office, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Weber Wright dismissed Jones’ case, saying the allegations wouldn’t constitute sexual harassment even if they were true. Jones appealed, but before the appellate court issued a ruling, Clinton and Jones agreed to a settlement for $850,000, with no admission of guilt from Clinton. This was greater than the $700,000 she initially sought. During the course of an investigation that was part of the case, additional stories about Clinton surfaced, included those of Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick, whom we’ll get to later.
Let’s look at the strengths of Jones’ case. It’s a fairly detailed account, and the lawsuit was filed not so long after the alleged incident. Her story appeared credible enough that it inspired others to come forward against Clinton, before Jones made any money from the settlement. Most intriguing, of course, is the settlement. Jones’ case had already been dismissed at the trial court level, and was pending appeal. Even if Jones won the appeal, the case would still have to go to trial before she won a judgment from the court. Still, Clinton agreed to pay her more than she asked for in the first place, despite denying the claims and saying he didn’t remember her.
Now the weaknesses. While three years is not a terribly long time to process a traumatic experience at the hands of a powerful figure and decide to move forward, any time someone waits until just before the deadline to do something, it shows that they’re thinking about the timing, and not just the substance of their case. That doesn’t mean they’re making things up (if they were, they could still file earlier), but it can distract a jury if it’s pointed out.
The next weakness, as with many cases of this nature, is that there are no eye witnesses. It’s a he-said/she-said situation, which doesn’t make her less credible, but it can make it more difficult to find someone responsible. What works in Jones’ favor here, though, is that her case was a civil suit, not a criminal one, so the burden of proof is a much smaller hurdle. In criminal cases, a person has to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but in a civil case, the standard is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning the jury has to believe that it’s more likely than not that the person is guilty, or liable.
Jones’s biggest weakness is the basis that Judge Wright used to dismiss her case. If her allegations, even if true, don’t satisfy the language of the law, then there’s nothing she can do, even if Clinton did everything she said he did.
Based on all this, the strength of her legal case is: somewhere between weak and somewhat strong. But as far as the strength of the allegations against Clinton in terms of truth: strong.
2. Kathleen Willey
Kathleen Willey testified at a deposition during the investigation of Jones’ case after the Drudge Report used her name in connection to Clinton. She described an encounter where President Clinton allegedly kissed her on the lips, groped her breast, and put her hand on his genitals during a private meeting in 1993, when she was working as a White House aide. She said she approached Clinton about a job, and felt comfortable meeting with him since they were already friends from when she and her husband worked on his 1992 campaign.
When Jones’ lawyers asked Clinton about it during a deposition, he said the alleged incident never happened. “I emphatically deny it,” he said. Clinton admitted to meeting with Willey about a job, and said he may have kissed her on the forehead because she was upset at the time. The White House issued a statement saying, “The president sought to comfort Ms. Willey at this obviously stressful time for her. He did not touch her, and she did not touch him, in any sexual manner.”
Willey said that she didn’t say anything about the encounter at the time, because it was a private matter. “That was the choice I made. That was the choice that I thought was the best one. I was embarrassed for the president’s behavior, and I saw no benefit whatsoever in filing a complaint,” she said after she went public. She testified at the Jones deposition after receiving a court order, but then decided to address the public, giving an interview with CBS News. “I think that too many lies are being told, too many lives are being ruined,” she said. “And I think it’s time for the truth to come out.”
Clinton’s attorneys said at the time that she changed her story, and a sworn affidavit from Willey’s friend, Julie Steele, said that Willey told her to lie. Steele said that Willey didn’t tell her about the Clinton encounter when it allegedly took place, but Willey asked her to say she did. Willey said that she believed the White House used Steele and pressured her into making that statement.
Today, Willey has a website that encourages people to step forward and tell their stories about being victimized by the Clintons. She has also released a book detailing how Bill and Hillary Clinton have allegedly targeted her.
It’s always difficult to evaluate the truthfulness of a person claiming sexual assault, given the nature of the allegations. But this case has some serious holes. Clinton has admitted to meeting with Willey on the date in question, just not the alleged actions. Willey’s reason for not going forward with a case against Clinton at the time had less to do with fear or shame for herself, but out of deference to Clinton and not seeing any benefit in potentially punishing him. This seems odd, considering that today she seems to have a vendetta against Clinton and is publicly trying to bring down his family.
Add the fact that her own friend swore that Willey told her to lie, plus the accusation that Willey changed her story, and it’s not a great case. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that Willey is making everything up. But if Willey had decided to press criminal charges and I was Clinton’s defense attorney, I’d certainly play all of this up. Prosecutors would have to hope that Willey would give convincing testimony.
In a criminal case for a sexual offense (which the alleged actions are), Clinton would have to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There are just too many things working against Willey here, even if she is telling the truth.
Based on the above, I’d say Kathleen Willey’s case is: weak.
3. Juanita Broaddrick
Juanita Broaddrick was originally known only as Jane Doe #5 during the Jones case. In 1998, she gave a sworn affidavit regarding allegations that Bill Clinton had raped her. At the time, she appeared to deny the allegations, saying:
Newspaper and tabloid reporters hounded me and my family, seeking corroboration of these tales. I repeatedly denied the allegations and requested that my family’s privacy be respected. These allegations are untrue and I had hoped that they would no longer haunt me, or cause further disruption to my family.
She also said:
Requiring my testimony at a deposition in this matter would cause unwarranted attorney’s fees and costs, disruption to my life and constitute an invasion of my right to privacy. For these reasons, I have asked my attorney to advise Ms. Jones’s counsel that there is no truth to the rumors they are pursuing and to provide her counsel with this sworn affidavit.
This could be a straight denial that Clinton did anything wrong, but it could also be a carefully worded way of saying “don’t bother me.” The sworn statement doesn’t make a denial, it refers to a denial. The phrase “these allegations are untrue” is nonspecific, and doesn’t have to mean every allegation. And the motivation for giving the statement is clear: she doesn’t want to deal with the hassle and invasion of privacy that would go along with testifying about being raped by a sitting President.
The following year, she changed her tune, and said that Clinton raped her in 1978. She said she first met Clinton when he was campaigning for Governor of Arkansas and he appeared at the nursing home where she worked. She said that during a private meeting, Clinton tried to kiss her, she pushed him away, and then he tried to kiss her again before forcing her onto a bed. Broaddrick said that they had originally planned to meet in a hotel coffee shop, but when Clinton asked to come up to her room, she agreed.
Broaddrick explained that she didn’t say this in the 1998 affidavit because, “I didn’t want to be forced to testify about the most horrific event of my life.” In February 1999, Broaddrick acknowledged that she did in fact go to a Clinton campaign event a few weeks after the encounter. She explained in an NBC interview, “I still felt very guilty at that time, that it was my fault. By letting him come to the room, I had given him the wrong idea.”
The Arkansas statute of limitations for these types of cases is six years, so by this point, it was too late to bring charges against Clinton.
Today, Broaddrick has been vocal about the allegations again, now that Hillary Clinton is running for President. The Democratic candidate had stated in 2015 that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be believed.”
“To every survivor of sexual assault…You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed. We’re with you.” —Hillary
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 14, 2015
That prompted Broaddrick to break a six-year Twitter absence.
Thoroughly disgusting–Hillary’s comments on rape. Shame on you, Hillary, shame on you!!
— Juanita Broaddrick (@atensnut) September 15, 2015
Since then Broaddrick has remained vocal about both Bill Clinton, and Hillary, who she has called an “enabler.”
Was dreading seeing my abuser on tv campaign trail for enabler wife……but his physical appearance reflects ghosts of past are catching up
— Juanita Broaddrick (@atensnut) January 5, 2016
Broaddrick was 35 at the time of the alleged rape. She is now 73. While she has been speaking to the media, she does not appear to be seeking to profit off of the situation.
While we’ll likely never know the truth for certain, Broaddrick’s story, from the allegations themselves, to her reasons for not moving forward and even the initial denial, sounds plausible. In term’s of Clinton’s response, he didn’t say much. His attorney, David Kendall, denied the allegations on Clinton’s behalf, but when Clinton himself was asked about it at a press conference, all he said was, “Well, my counsel has made a statement about the … issue, and I have nothing to add to it.” He did not actually go on record denying it, and this was after the Jones case had been settled and it was too late for Broaddrick to press charges.
Given all of the details of her story, from not reporting it, to later going public, and her reasons for both maintaining and breaking her silence, Broaddrick’s story is believable. Plus, she appears credible in television interviews. Based on all of the above, if she had pressed charges at the time, her case likely would have been strong.
Of course, this is all speculation. Clinton has never admitted to any of these allegations, and he has never even faced criminal charges for them. The fact that several women have made similar allegations does not mean that he did any of it. But had they gone forward, it would have been interesting to see what might have happened.
[Image via Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock]