NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell turned the issue of Bill Clinton’s past sexual indiscretions — which includes numerous affairs and accusations of sexual assault — against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate, taking him to task for answering a question about the issue last week in Iowa.
“You called Bill Clinton’s past transgressions ‘totally, totally, totally disagraceful and unacceptable,'” began Mitchell, who moderated the debate with her colleague Lester Holt. “Do you regret saying that?”
“I was asked a question,” Sanders responded, lamenting that he is frequently asked on the campaign trail to attack his opponent. “I cannot walk down the street without being told how I have to attack Secretary Clinton.”
At a campaign event last week, an audience member asked Sanders about Bill Clinton’s numerous sex scandals, which include an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton has also been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Arkansas nursing home administrator Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of raping her in 1978, when he was attorney general.
“I was asked a question,” Sanders repeated to Mitchell, but the reporter jumped in with what resembled a defense of the Clintons.
“You didn’t have to answer it that way though. Why did you?” she asked.
“Then if I don’t answer it, it’s another front page,” Sanders said.
“Yes, his behavior was deplorable,” he added of Clinton, while noting that he has never “once said a word about that issue” on the campaign trail.
In targeting Sanders with the question, Mitchell ignored what has emerged as a major vulnerability for Hillary Clinton and put her challenger in a defensive position. Bill Clinton’s behavior is news to a whole new generation of voters. In addition, Clinton has opened herself up to accusations of hypocrisy by defending sexual assault victims for campaigning purposes while dismissing accusations made against her husband.
In November, Clinton tweeted that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”
But when asked at an event last month how she squares her belief that rape victims must be believed with her dismissal of her husband’s accusers, Clinton responded by saying, “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.” (RELATED: Hillary Asked Whether Women Who Have Accused Her Husband Of Sexual Assault Should Be Believed)
Observers could easily imagine a scenario in which Mitchell asked Clinton on Sunday’s debate stage how she can rationalize those two positions. Instead, she turned it into an accusation that Sanders is running a dirty campaign.
Mitchell’s apparent defense of Clinton should come as no surprise. Earlier this week, Juanita Broaddrick now 73, told Buzzfeed and The Daily Caller that she was recently interviewed by Mitchell about her accusations against the former president, but that the reporter seemed “very defensive” of Hillary Clinton. Broaddrick re-emerged last week on Twitter, posting a scathing rebuke of the Clintons.
Broaddrick said that Mitchell interviewed her by phone for an evening news segment. An NBC News reporter also flew to Arkansas to interview Broaddrick in person. But a story never ran, much to the dismay of Broaddrick. The network told Buzzfeed that it did not air a segment because Broaddrick didn’t have “anything new” to say. (RELATED: NBC News Scrapped Story About Juanita Broaddrick Because She Didn’t Have ‘Anything New’ To Say)
Mitchell has admitted in the past to pulling punches so as to not anger Clinton. In September, she admitted that she held back on asking too many questions about Clinton’s use of a private email server for fear that the candidate’s handlers would cut the interview short. (RELATED: Andrea Mitchell Cut Short Questioning Hillary Over Email Server)