As my colleague Clay Waters noted, the New York Times finally caught up with the Washington Free Beacon's month-old scoop about an audiotape recording of Hillary Clinton chuckling as she recalled her successful 1975 defense of a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Perhaps because there was no longer any plausible deniability about the existence of the story, MSNBC's Chris Matthews tonight devoted a segment to the controversy, bringing on Bernard Center founder Michelle Bernard and Salon's Joan Walsh to discuss the matter. While all three agreed that the controversy would in no way sink Mrs. Clinton's 2016 prospects, Walsh was particularly vociferous in her defense of Clinton, while Matthews and Bernard were critical of the former first lady. At one point, a testy Walsh charged Bernard with twisting the facts of the story.
"Look, Chris, it's not a fun tape to listen to, I'm not going to try to sugarcoat it," Walsh began, but this was simply a case of Mrs. Clinton doing her job. The accused rapist was simply fortunate to have in Mrs. Clinton a "good" defense attorney. But, "[i]s it laughable that you got a rapist off for raping a 12-year-old? Why is she laughing?" Matthews demanded of Walsh, who countered (emphasis mine):
I'm sure she would take that laughter back. She is specifically laughing -- and we've both listened to the whole tape -- she's laughing about this judge, she's laughing about the bad handling of the evidence and that's what criminal defense lawyers deal with that all the time.
She didn't do anything wrong. She's having a casual conversation with a reporter she knows, I'm sure she'd take that laughter back.
At this point, Matthews shot back that "it's worse than that unfortunately," to which Walsh interjected, "I'm not sure it is." Matthews continued his piece:
When she laughs about the fact she calls it a miscarriage of justice if the guy gets convicted, as if that would be a joke. I'm sorry, it wouldn't have been a miscarriage of justice, it would have been justice.
Moments later, sharing her analysis, Bernard went on at length about how the case could "be very problematic for Hillary Clinton," explaining that "if you listen to the tape... she tells the interviewer that the prosecutor in the case called her and asked her to take the defendant on as a client, because the defendant was looking for a woman to be the lawyer."
In the midst of laying out her case, a testy Joan Walsh eventually interrupted to protest (emphasis mine):
BERNARD: The question is, if she wasn't court appointed and she decided to take this case as a favor to the prosecutor, there are many Americans who are going to look and listen to this tape and they're going to say --
WALSH: But, she was court appointed. Wait, she was court appointed.
BERNARD Please, Joan, let me finish. This is very serious. This girl was allegedly raped and beaten by two men living in her parents' home. The second man just didn't happen to be accused. Hillary Clinton took the case. This is a woman who, undoubtedly, has always been an advocate for women, children and families. But she took the case.
She knew what the allegations were. She indicated in the tape that she believed that her client more likely than not was guilty of the crime that he was accused of. So people are going to say, inevitably, who is the real Hillary Clinton?
She's got a very distinct Southern drawl on this tape which she no longer has today. She took on a case where she believed her client probably raped this young woman. The young woman was in a coma, she was in a hospital. She did many, many years of physical therapy. She ended up drug addicted, never married, no children. She is speaking out now and she's saying Hillary Clinton ruined my life.
I acted as a public defender in my last year of law school and I knew very early on I'd have to be a prosecutor, because I could not stand doing something like this.
WALSH: Well, and Hillary Clinton --
BERNARD: Joan, I'm almost finished.
WALSH: Well, you're filibustering.
BERNARD: People are going to ask why did she take the case when the prosecutor said, I've got somebody who has been accused of raping a 12-year-old girl, and he's specifically looking for a woman lawyer. For some people, that's going to leave a distaste.
Moments later, Walsh angrily charged that Bernard had "presented the facts in a particularly twisted way."
Something tells me most Americans watching this would find only one person on the panel "particularly twisted" on the matter, and that it isn't Ms. Bernard.