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What we know about Leslie Millwee’s allegations of sexual assault against Bill Clinton

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Donald Trump came to the second presidential debate with three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. At the final debate Wednesday night, he was accompanied by a fourth: Leslie Cruzen Millwee, who told Breitbart News on Wednesday that Clinton groped and assaulted her when she was a TV reporter in Arkansas in the early 1980s.

Other women who have accused Bill Clinton of harassment or assault have said that Hillary Clinton helped to cover it up, but Millwee didn’t make any allegations against the Democratic nominee — only her husband.

Trump’s decision to invite Millwee to the debate is part of a somewhat scattershot strategy that also included bringing as guests former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the half-brother of President Obama. It’s really not exactly clear what Trump is trying to accomplish here, aside from pleasing the Republican base by reminding them that they like Palin and dislike Clinton and Obama.

But Millwee’s allegations are also part of a broader context in which women are more comfortable coming forward about sexual assault and harassment than they might have been in the past, and in which both men and women are much quicker to call out and condemn sexually predatory behavior.

This new environment has helped produce a parade of allegations against Trump, particularly after he denied at the second presidential debate that he had ever groped anyone. It also has led to a sometimes uncomfortable reevaluation of Bill Clinton’s legacy with women.

Trump, though, isn’t particularly interested in that debate. He puts forward new accusers of Clinton’s misdeeds and demands that they be believed while casting doubt on the women who have accused him of assault. To Trump, casting doubt on Bill Clinton’s conduct is the same as arguing Hillary Clinton isn’t suited to be president — regardless of whether she’s at all to blame for her husband’s behavior.

Millwee says Clinton assaulted her while she was a local news reporter

Millwee, who now lives in Texas, told Breitbart that while she was working for a TV station in Arkansas in 1980, she interviewed Bill Clinton, then the governor, more than a dozen times. Clinton would often single her out with flirtatious comments, she said. He eventually visited the station while she was editing her footage in a small, isolated editing room and, she said, groped and assaulted her.

The first time, Millwee said, Clinton gave her a shoulder massage and tried to touch her breasts. “I was just stunned,” she told Breitbart. “I froze.” She said she asked Clinton not to do it again, but the second time, he rubbed his penis against her back while reaching for her breasts until he orgasmed, something he later did again on another occasion, she said. She also said Clinton came to her apartment and knocked on her door.

Millwee also described the incident in a book she self-published in 2010, although she said then that Clinton only cornered her and touched her shoulders. She told Breitbart she wanted the book to be something she could “proudly tell people about … at church” and so didn’t want to include the more graphic details. Breitbart also notes that none of the footage from the TV station in the 1980s exists, although it interviewed a colleague of Millwee’s who said that she did, in fact, interview Clinton.

Breitbart talked to three people whom Millwee said she told about Clinton’s alleged assault in the late 1990s. At the time, Clinton’s other sexual misdeeds were in the news: The president was being sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick was accusing him of sexual assault, and Congress was investigating his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Millwee said she considered coming forward publicly with the allegations then, but decided not to because she was worried about what the Clintons might do to her and how they might affect her life. Still, she said she did talk to people close to her, and those people all confirmed her story.

Millwee’s Facebook page suggests that she’s a conservative and a Trump supporter. She’s a fan of a broad range of conservative commentators, including Sean Hannity, and a member of a Facebook group called “Deplorables for Trump.” None of that is a reason to doubt her story; many of Trump’s accusers have said they’re supporting Clinton.

Breitbart is the de facto official news outlet of the Trump campaign. Millwee’s story was sympathetically told and fact-checked, but the outlet has hardly covered the women who have accused Trump of sexual assault — as if it is taking its cues from Trump, who insists that all of Bill Clinton’s accusers be believed and that all of his have been debunked.

Trump hopes to use allegations against Bill Clinton to discredit Hillary Clinton

The allegations Millwee is making against Clinton sound a lot like the many stories that have emerged about Trump since the release of a tape from 2005 in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. The key difference, though, is that Bill Clinton, unlike Trump, isn’t running for president.

While Bill Clinton has been accused of sexual assault by Juanita Broaddrick, the case that Hillary Clinton has done anything wrong with regard to any of Bill’s sexual misdeeds — the purported reason Trump put his accusers front and center at the second debate — is much murkier.

Broaddrick interprets Hillary Clinton thanking her at a volunteer event in 1978 as a winking thank you for her silence. Clinton described Monica Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony tune” in a private conversation with a good friend. She may have supported hiring a private investigator to investigate Gennifer Flowers, who said she had an affair with Clinton.

That’s pretty thin evidence to use to twist Bill Clinton’s misdeeds to disqualify his wife from the presidency. The more interesting questions raised when Trump gives new life to allegations of misconduct against Bill Clinton aren’t about his wife’s culpability, but about the ex-president’s own legacy and whether he is someone that liberals and feminists should celebrate.

Since Clinton left office, conversations about sex and power in America have changed significantly. It’s hard to imagine that the most powerful man in America having a consensual affair with an intern in his office would be viewed the same way in 2016 that it was in 1998, or that, given the recent emphasis placed on believing women who talk about sexual assault, stories like Broaddrick’s would be brushed aside so easily today.

Feminist writers have been grappling with this issue. “I can't imagine how young women perceive Bill Clinton. We have a heightened awareness and understanding of what sexual power imbalances mean,” Rebecca Traister, who has written extensively about Hillary Clinton, told Vox’s Tara Golshan. “If my feminist sensibility had been shaped with an awareness of rape culture, of sexual power imbalance, and then I looked backward at a president that never meant anything to me personally, I don’t know how I could even comprehend how we had that guy.”

These are fascinating questions. But they’re not the questions Trump wants to discuss when he invites Millwee to the debate. He’s not opening a debate about sexual power and responsibility; that would mean reckoning with the allegations against him. He’s trying to rally the base and get under Hillary Clinton’s skin, and Millwee — a woman who came forward with an allegedly painful and difficult personal experience — is a tool to that end.