When you consider the power imbalance between the leader of the free world and any young woman who works for him, former President Bill Clinton‘s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was, yes, an abuse of power. Even Lewinsky, as a result of the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault, has reevaluated both their roles in the affair. After decades of having been publicly shamed and blamed for the “scandal,” Lewinsky said in Vanity Fair in February that she realized that “[Bill Clinton] was the most powerful man on the planet…while [she] was in my first job out of college.”
However, despite these glaring realities, former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton still doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to CBS Sunday Morning, Clinton denied that her husband’s affair was an abuse of power, asserting that Lewinsky, while an intern, “was an adult” at the time of the affair. Clinton then pivoted to the numerous accusations of harassment and assault facing President Donald Trump, asking why Trump has yet to be investigated for those accounts.
Speaking to Tony Dokoupil on the program, Clinton said she “absolutely” did not think that her husband should have resigned in the wake of the affair with Lewinsky. She also went on to deny that an abuse of power took place.
“There are people who look at the incidents of the ’90s and they say, ‘A president of the United States cannot have a consensual relationship with an intern. The power imbalance is too great,'” Dokoupil tried asking again, before Clinton interjected.
“Who was an adult,” she said. “But let me ask you this: Where’s the investigation of the current incumbent, against whom numerous allegations have been made, and which he dismisses, denies, and ridicules? So there was an investigation and it, as I believe, came out in the right place.”
Clinton’s denial of her husband’s wrongdoing, while not her responsibility for having taken place, was exhausting to hear for both her supporters and critics. On top of her denial that she had any role in “criticizing the character of the women that accused [her husband] of sexual misconduct,” Clinton’s dismissal of the abuse drove Twitter to shut down her responses on the Sunday program.
Nope. This is not how we determine whether a sexual relationship is an abuse of power. Not even close. https://t.co/dEUB8fZFeC— Nancy Leong (@nancyleong) October 14, 2018
POTUS vs Intern. It’s like the same thing. https://t.co/3HioqSVPlt— Arn Menconi (@ArnMenconi) October 14, 2018
She was a 22-year-old intern and he was the president of the United States. It’s honestly hard to think of a dynamic that is *more* clearly an egregious abuse of power. https://t.co/qe5uGzwC3n— Lindsey Barrett (@LAM_Barrett) October 15, 2018
When the most powerful man in thr world has an affair with an intern, it is an abuse of power— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) October 15, 2018
When he does it literally in our White House, it is an abuse of power
When he thinks the topic is beneath him to adress (esp given the #metoo movement in 2018), it is an abuse of power https://t.co/z7u3oLUmGk
It was an abuse of power AND she was an adult. Both things can be true. https://t.co/25I1UEMsT5— Alexandra Adams ✨ (@alexandra_adams) October 15, 2018
- A plain and simple guide to understanding consent
- What it’s like to work in the sex industry in the wake of #MeToo
- Donald Trump is the ‘believe men’ president
In her piece for Vanity Fair earlier this year, Lewinsky wrote that in the context of the Me Too movement, she no longer understood her relationship with the former president as consensual as she even had previously, even as recent as four years earlier:
The dictionary definition of “consent”? “To give permission for something to happen.” And yet what did the “something” mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age? Was the “something” just about crossing a line of sexual (and later emotional) intimacy? (An intimacy I wanted—with a 22-year-old’s limited understanding of the consequences.) He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college. (Note to the trolls, both Democratic and Republican: none of the above excuses me for my responsibility for what happened. I meet Regret every day.)
Months later, the former president said that he has never apologized to Lewinsky personally, and that he didn’t owe her an apology. He instead said that he apologized to Lewinsky publicly multiple times and that their affair “was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me.”
“I have never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That’s very different. The apology was public,” Bill Clinton said at the time.
Hillary Clinton may not be responsible for her husband’s actions, and for the ways in which he’s continued to deny his own abusive role in his relationship with Lewinsky. But her supporters wish she’d accept this reality amid a cultural moment in which people are finally feeling comfortable speaking up against abuses of power.