Minutes before Trump began his first State of the Union address, Clinton released a detailed statement explaining her decision to keep religious adviser Burns Strider on her campaign in 2008. Clinton has been under scrutiny since The New York Times reported that she’d ignored recommendations to fire Strider for alleged sexual harassment; Strider went on to work for Clinton’s ally David Brock in 2016, only to finally lose that job following accusations that he harassed another woman.
In her statement, Clinton admitted that she “very much understands” why people expected her to respond to the accusations that she shielded a predator from accountability. “The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t,” she said. The rest of her statement, though, is less straightforward, mixing defensiveness and self-validation with an attack on the Times for supposedly being hypocritical:
I did this because I didn’t think firing him was the best solution to the problem. He needed to be punished, change his behavior, and understand why his actions were wrong. The young woman needed to be able to thrive and feel safe. I thought both could happen without him losing his job. I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous.
I also believe in second chances. I’ve been given second chances and I have given them to others. I want to continue to believe in them. But sometimes they’re squandered. In this case, while there were no further complaints against him for the duration of the campaign, several years after working for me he was terminated from another job for inappropriate behavior. That reoccurrence troubles me greatly, and it alone makes clear that the lesson I hoped he had learned while working for me went unheeded. Would he have done better—been better—if I had fired him? Would he have gotten that next job? There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now.
Clinton assures us that the woman in question “felt supported,” which walks an awful fine line between defending her decision not to fire Strider and ensuring that the woman’s needs were met. Perhaps she did feel supported. Perhaps she still does. But it’s impossible not to wonder how she and the other victim really felt at the time.
Clinton also seems interested in spreading the blame around. Her statement refers to the Times’s refusal to fire White House reporter Glenn Thrush. The Times’s decision to keep Thrush on staff is troubling (so is the paper’s apparent belief that moving Thrush to the welfare beat constitutes punishment). But for Clinton to bring it up in this statement reads like an attempt to delegitimize Maggie Haberman and Amy Chozick’s reporting on the Strider story. Haberman and Chozick are not responsible for the paper’s personnel decisions, and they do not occupy the position of power that Clinton herself held. Clinton’s long statement should’ve been five words long: “I was complicit. I’m sorry.”