CNN Panel Turns Backlash Against Clinton Into Attack on Trump

A panel of guests on Monday's CNN Tonight With Don Lemon took turns trying to deflect from the public backlash against former President Bill Clinton after he refused to take responsibility for the Monica Lewinsky scandal during a contentious interview with NBC reporter Craig Melvin on the Today show that morning. Anchor Don Lemon and his pundits instead tried to turn the focus against President Trump.

 

 

The attention shift began when left-wing New York Times columnist Frank Bruni lamented Clinton's poor media performance: "He attacked the reporter, he cited public opinion polls, two-thirds of Americans are with me and he had a pity party. Whom does that remind you of? Lemon quickly replied: "Donald Trump."

Bruni complained: "I don't need to be reminded of Donald Trump by a President whom I have much more respect for, but who did not have his best day today."

Lemon then guided guests through drawing comparisons between Clinton and Trump: “We have two living presidents who have been investigated for obstruction of justice, both have also been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.” [Removed sentence] The host wondered: "Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, are they both more alike than both Democrats and Republicans would like to admit?"

Political commentator Harry Litman acknowledged Clinton's failings, but argued that Trump was worse:

And you compare that to the pedal to the metal sort of grievance and defiance you get from Trump who, all his supporters know, for example, that of course, he had sexual relations with multiple women. But he's chosen to play it in such a pugnacious way that he's kind of retained his base. And you wonder if that is more effective. Neither is a great model for American youth or America. But I was struck that Clinton tried to tiptoe a little where Trump has been a real bull about it. And has in some ways succeeded on his terms.

Former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart went on to claim that Clinton had some moral superiority over Trump: “[Clinton] never fired an FBI director. He never publicly shamed his attorney general. He never ridiculed the entire intelligence community. He never tried to undermine vast swaths of the government in order to protect himself.” The Democratic operative continued: "He never tried to undermine vast swaths of the government in order to protect himself. He did just the opposite. He kept his mouth shut and he went about doing his job. So I don't think the comparisons hold up."

CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter offered a reality check:

Let me push back a little bit. I do agree with you, Joe, when it came to the investigation, Bill Clinton did conduct himself more honorably, but I can't forget about things like "bimbo eruptions". James Carville saying well, "if you drag a dollar through a trailer park, who knows what you'll find." Hillary Clinton dismissing questions as a vast right-wing conspiracy. So I do think some of the precedent that happened denying the accusations did provide some of the frame work that's being used today.

Litman chimed back in and combined two disgraced Presidents, saying, “In general, look, both Nixon and Clinton felt constrained by a sense of the dignity and the importance of the institution of the office. Trump has zero of that.” He proclaimed that Trump has "no respect at all or worry at all about the status of the presidency."

So a panel discussion that was supposed to be about Bill Clinton's history of mistreating women somehow transformed into a segment in which Clinton was praised for being "constrained by a sense of dignity" and showing concern for "the status of the presidency." Amazing.

Here is a full transcript of the June 4 discussion:

CNN Tonight with Don Lemon

6/4/18

11:08 PM ET

[CLIP FROM BILL CLINTON INTERVIEW]

CRAIG MELVIN: You didn't apologize to her?

BILL CLINTON: I have not talked to her.

MELVIN: Do you feel like you owe her an apology?

CLINTON: No. I -- I do not -- I've 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.

[END CLIP]

DON LEMON: Not good.

JOE LOCKHART: No, I think he made a mistake there that he doesn't make that often. And it's one that he see our current president doing all the time. Which was not separating the two things. He was treated unfairly by the Republicans. It was a partisan attack to remove him from office. Newt Gingrich famously said when asked why are you doing this? He said because we can. He conflated that with the underlying thing that he did apologize for at the time. And in doing that, he undermined the apology. It was a mistake. And I think he did try to clean it up later in the day.

LEMON: I was shocked that he was not prepared for that question. Maybe that's him thinking he was prepared. It is such an easy answer. This was a regret every single day of my life. I'm sorry to Monica Lewinsky and her family. If she's listening I would like to apologize to her I want to reach out to her but haven't done it out of respect or something. It's so easy to answer that question.

LOCKHART: Again, I think, as we've talked about, that answer is diametrically opposed to at the time what the president did as president. Which was not focus on himself, not focus on the victimization of the president and focus on the country's work. And you can see why, you know, when the answer comes out that way it's not effective at all.

LEMON: That's why I was just so stunned by it. This is what he said, his clarification tonight and then I'll get your response.

[EXCERPT OF CLIP]

CLINTON: I got hot under the collar the way the questions were asked. I think what was lost were the two points that I made that are important to me. The suggestion was that I had never apologized for what caused all the trouble for me 20 years ago. So the first point is I did. I meant it then and I meant it now. I did that. I benefited. I meant it today. I live with it all the time. The second is that I support the me too movement and I think it's long overdue. I've always tried to support the decisions and policies that I've advanced.

[END EXCERPT]

LEMON: Is that clarification enough?

FRANK BRUNI: He cleaned it up a little. I heard a lot of "I" "I" "I." The question was about someone who was a 21-year-old White House intern at the time. He attacked the reporter, he cited public opinion polls, 2/3 of Americans are with me and he had a pity party. Whom does that remind you of?

LEMON: Donald Trump.

BRUNI: I don't need to be reminded of Donald Trump by a President whom I have much more respect for, but who did not have his best day today.

LEMON:  We have two living presidents who have been investigated for obstruction of justice, both have also been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, are they both more alike than both Democrats and Republicans would like to admit?

HARRY LITMAN: It's really interesting. I think Clinton, I recognize he was tired. He missed the basic lesson of the me too movement. Oh, I had two women chiefs of staff when I was attorney general. It was like Harvey Weinstein gave a lot of money to women's causes. It misses the point of the real sin. But I actually hear the similarities from Frank and others, but I see a kind of contrast here. To me, Clinton was caught off-guard and was a little bit trying to have it both ways in the way he sometimes does, sort of talking in half measures. And you compare that to the pedal to the metal sort of grievance and defiance you get from Trump who, all his supporters know, for example, that of course, he had sexual relations with multiple women. But he's chosen to play it in such a pugnacious way that he's kind of retained his base. And you wonder if that is more effective. Neither is a great model for American youth or America. But I was struck that Clinton tried to tiptoe a little where Trump has been a real bull about it. And has in some ways succeeded on his terms.

LEMON: Joe, I know you want to respond.

LOCKHART: I don't disagree that it was not a good interview and not a good performance and he messed up. But the comparison falls here, the President felt very strongly at the time that he was being unfairly treated. He never fired an FBI director. He never publicly shamed his attorney general. He never ridiculed the entire intelligence community. He never tried to undermine vast swaths of the government in order to protect himself. He did just the opposite. He kept his mouth shut and he went about doing his job. So I don't think the comparisons hold up.

AMANDA CARPENTER: Let me push back a little bit. I do agree with you, Joe, when it came to the investigation, Bill Clinton did conduct himself more honorably, but I can't forget about things like "bimbo eruptions". James Carville saying well, "if you drag a dollar through a trailer park, who knows what you'll find." Hillary Clinton dismissing questions as a vast right-wing conspiracy. So I do think some of the precedent that happened denying the accusations did provide some of the frame work that's being used today.

LEMON:  Go ahead.

LITMAN: Don, can I make a quick point? In general, look, both Nixon and Clinton felt constrained by a sense of the dignity and the importance of the institution of the office. Trump has zero of that. Besides agreeing with the whole litany of the really singular sins he's committed. He's shown in his whole approach no respect at all or worry at all about the status of the presidency. Even Nixon and certainly Clinton were different that way.

LEMON: Listen, we talked about this longer than we were going to. But I want to thank you, it was a fascinating conversation and deserved to be talked about.

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