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Juanita Broaddrick's case against Hillary Clinton, explained

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Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton in 1987.
Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton in 1987.
John Sykes/Liaison
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Donald Trump, in bringing up Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that Bill Clinton raped her while running for Arkansas governor in 1978, is trying to tell a story about Hillary Clinton hurting women. This is a tough trick to pull off. Bill and Hillary are different people; holding a wife responsible for her husband’s sexual violence is dubious at best, and loathsome at worst.

But Broaddrick has not only accused Bill of rape — she has accused Hillary of trying to intimidate her to cover it up. In 1999, Broaddrick explained to the Drudge Report that Hillary had stopped her at a campaign event a couple of weeks after the rape, and made comments that Broaddrick interpreted as threatening, and intending to make her shut up:

"[Hillary] came directly to me as soon as she hit the door. I had been there only a few minutes, I only wanted to make an appearance and leave. She caught me and took my hand and said 'I am so happy to meet you. I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill.' I started to turn away and she held onto my hand and reiterated her phrase -- looking less friendly and repeated her statement — 'Everything you do for Bill'. I said nothing. She wasn't letting me get away until she made her point. She talked low, the smile faded on the second thank you. I just released her hand from mine and left the gathering."

This is the crucial step that makes Bill’s violence against Broaddrick something that reflects poorly on Hillary. It is the only reason this is a relevant campaign issue in a year where Bill is not on the ballot.

And as someone who’s spent a lot of time reporting on the Broaddrick allegations, it strikes me as a rather flimsy reason. There is a considerable amount of evidence that Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick, evidence both from her and from people who knew her at the time and remember her injuries and accounts of what happened. The evidence that Hillary intimidated her is, essentially, an inference on behalf of Broaddrick — an inference which may or may not be reasonable, but which lacks the evidentiary basis of Broaddrick’s allegations against Bill.

There is real evidence for Broaddrick’s anti-Bill allegations

Juanita Broaddrick with Clinton
Juanita Broaddrick at her nursing home with Bill Clinton in 1978.
Getty Images / Handout

Broaddrick’s allegation against Bill is very specific, and has been verified by multiple friends of her who were present at the time. She was a volunteer for Clinton's gubernatorial campaign in 1978, and claims that after meeting him at a campaign office in her hometown of Van Buren, he invited her to visit him in Little Rock. Once she was at a hotel, he asked her to meet at the hotel coffee shop and not his campaign headquarters, as they had planned. When he arrived, she claims he called her room and suggested they get coffee in her room instead. Then, she alleges, he began kissing her, and when she resisted his advances, raped her. She claimed he grabbed onto her lip with his mouth, leaving it bruised and swollen.

Norma Rogers, who was the director of nursing at the nursing home Broaddrick ran at the time, told reporters that she entered the hotel room shortly after the assault allegedly took place and "found Mrs. Broaddrick crying and in 'a state of shock.' Her upper lip was puffed out and blue, and appeared to have been hit." Rogers elaborated to the New York Times, "She told me he forced himself on her, forced her to have intercourse."

Broaddrick's friends Louise Ma, Susan Lewis, and Jean Darden (Norma Rogers's sister) all told NBC News that Broaddrick told them Bill Clinton raped her at the time. David Broaddrick — with whom Broaddrick was having an affair at the time; they both eventually left their spouses to marry each other — also told NBC that Broaddrick's top lip was black after the alleged incident, and that she told him "that she had been raped by Bill Clinton."

This is real evidence. It includes Broaddrick’s eye-witness accounts, as well as confirmation from two further eye-witnesses that Broaddrick had injuries consistent with the assault she alleged. Further, those witnesses and more confirmed that Broaddrick recounted the assault to them in 1978, when he was not nearly as powerful a political figure, and one who she supported.

By contrast, the evidence that Hillary Clinton intimidated Broaddrick boils down to her interpretation of Hillary saying, “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill.” Her interpretation was that Bill Clinton told Hillary that he raped Broaddrick, and sent Hillary to get Broaddrick to stay quiet.

It’s understandable why Broaddrick would think that. But it’s not the only interpretation of Clinton’s comments. And given the improbability of Bill — who kept his affairs with Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers from Hillary — confessing to a rape, and then enlisting her as a minion to shut down the accusation, it doesn’t seem like the most plausible interpretation. Occam’s razor suggests that Hillary was in the dark, like she always was with Bill’s sexual misconduct, and was merely doing political wife duties in thanking a dedicated campaign volunteer, oblivious to the broader context.

Of course, the only person who knows what Hillary meant is Hillary, and she’s obviously not going to confirm the most conspiratorial interpretation of her remarks. It’s fundamentally impossible to know the truth here beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the fact remains that there is much less evidence that Hillary silenced Broaddrick than that Bill raped Broaddrick. The latter accusation is serious and credible and deserves to be heard out. The former is merely an inference, and a rather weak basis for holding Hillary responsible for her husband’s abuse.

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