January 17th, 2008
11:35 AM ET
3 years ago

Clinton supporter apologizes for Obama comments

The Obama campaign took issue with Johnson’s comments.
The Obama campaign took issue with Johnson’s comments.

(CNN) – High-profile Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson is apologizing to Barack Obama for comments he made last week regarding the Illinois senator's acknowledged drug use as a teenager. Johnson said he sent a letter to Obama Thursday morning and said he was also reaching out by phone.

The founder and former chief executive officer of Black Entertainment Television created a stir and drew wide criticism after a Clinton campaign stop in Columbia, South Carolina January 13 when, in defending the Clintons' record on civil rights, he said, "to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood -­ and I wont say what he was doing, but he said it in the book -­ when they have been involved."

Many felt that Johnson was referring to Obama's drug use, which the senator wrote about in his memoirs.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton told CNN that "Obama accepts the apology. We're going to leave it at that."

In December, former New Hampshire Clinton campaign official Bill Shaheen resigned after he publicly suggested that Republicans would probably use Obama's past drug use against him.

Shortly after Johnson made the remarks, the Clinton campaign released a statement from him saying he had been “referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

The Obama campaign did not accept his explanation. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said: "His tortured explanation doesn't hold up against his original statement. And it's troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton – who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing."

The billionaire Johnson is not a paid staffer, but a high-profile volunteer and wealthy fundraiser. When asked at a Vegas debate whether Johnson would have to go because of his comments, Hillary Clinton distanced herself from Johnson's remarks, saying, "Well, Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say, and what he thought he had said. And we accept him on his word on that."

But when asked whether Johnson's comments were out of bounds, Clinton acknowledged, "Yes they were. And he has said that."

Johnson told CNN Clinton did not ask him to apologize nor leave the campaign. Johnson said he quickly realized his comments were a mistake "made in haste in an attempt to be funny."

Johnson's apology comes as both the Clinton and Obama campaigns step up their efforts to win South Carolina's coveted African-American vote. Nearly 50 percent of the likely Democratic voters in the state are African-American. And both campaigns are rolling out high-profile black leaders and celebrities leading up to the January 26 primary.

–CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux

(Johnson’s letter after the jump)

Johnson's letter states:

"Dear Barack,

I'm writing to apologize to you and your family personally for the un-called-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event. In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry. I hope that you will accept this apology. Good luck on the campaign trail.

Warm regards,

Bob Johnson"

Related video: Watch Johnson's comments about Obama and Clinton

Related video: Watch Michelle Obama make the case for electing her husband

soundoff (222 Responses)
  1. Yalindo

    Somebody, anybody, please enlighten me, WHAT exactly has the Clintons done for Blacks in their lifetime. Just cite me one.

    As far as I know, Bill Clinton kicked off his 92 campaign by attacking Sister Souljah (a signal to southern racist whites that he is prepared to keep blacks in their place). The highest ranking Black person in the Clinton white house was the Sec. of Commerce – Ron Brown. There was no Black in the Clinton inner-circle.
    Bill Clinton threw Lani Gurnier under the bus when the republicans opposed her appointment for AG. Clinton signed the crime bill that has nearly a million black men in prison (most of them for non-violent drug crimes); Clinton repealed the welfare program that has plunged over 8million people (blacks and whites) below the poverty line – see 2000 census figures. By the way, these bills were all part of the Republicans "Contract with America".

    As for Bob Johnson, I can understand his contempt for black people. He made his money by funnelling garbage and smut into the homes of blacks vai his BET. He, of all people, know that we blacks are stupid. How else could we allow a pimp and smut-peddler to dare claim to speak for us, if we are not stupid?

    Memo to Al Sharpton: Lets march on BET, NOW!!!

    Attention Bob Johnson: When Barack Obama was giving voice to poor Blacks, you were busy peddling smut to us. So shut up and go to your ornate room in massa's house.

    The real 'fairy tale' in this campaign is this idiotic, dubious, and downright fallacious notion that the Clintons have a long record of standing behind blacks. Nobody have ever cited one example. Any wonder why white folks see us as intelectually inferior? We act as if we are!!

    January 17, 2008 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  2. Rosemary

    Bob Johnson's apology is a load of crap. It was tasteless, and shamful for him as an African American to slander one of his own in order to get Hillary Clinton elected president. Her rebuttal of his comments were weak and inexcusable.

    Bob Johnson should apologize to African Americans in general. I don't believe he decided to apologize on his own. I believe pressure from other African Americans was put on him. Because most of them were embarassed by his statements. The Clintons claim that they have no control is total BS. I hope the African American Community sees this for what it is.

    The Clinton campaign is trying to make Barack look bad out there. He had nothing to do with any of this and yet the Clintons are trying to put it on his door. Obama has shown he can take the high road.

    I hope the voting public sees this also.

    January 17, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. LadyGeenSlippers

    I never realised how "black" i was until this: I was NOT exposed to racial tensions, obvious or subtle growing up, I am an American raised outside the U.S, my husband is white, we have two children and i have black and white friends, and i think i came to America lacking this sort of "black pride" as a result of experience, or prejudice towards whites because i have no historical context from which to fear them. but i for days i couldn't understand why it was so painful watching Bob Johnson and Charlie Rangal try to kneecap Barack Obama on behalf of the Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband.
    And then i had it; I finally realised that it was NOT about whites versus blacks.
    This is what MLK and all the other pioneers and soldiers of justice fought for, so black Americans would have an equal place in this great country, and to see a black man trying to tear down his own brother, it brought tears to my eyes. I felt like a parent watching a child of mine stabbing his brother in the back. That is what i felt.

    January 17, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  4. Bernie Moore-Knowles

    Too good, Sly – you are so on it! Clinton gets high in his youth – and we are to believe he did not inhale? How can a voter be so naive? Trust me on this one – Clinton got high. At least, Obama gives us credit for brains – the Clintons honestly believe that we believe them! LOL Too funny, Eric in Massachusetts. Too funny. I can see why people like you are Clinton followers. You are so right, Sly – "What is your point, Eric?"

    Bernie Moore-Knowles
    Papa'aloa, Hawai'i

    January 17, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  5. Concerned Citizen, IN

    You people supporting Johnson are clearly misguided. You say he spoke the truth, and point out that the Clintons were fighting for civil rights while Obama was doing drugs. You say that all he did was sign up new voters. What did you do for your community except spew vile hate for a candidate who is exciting new people to get involved in the process and care about their country.

    And I think you got it wrong....while Obama was working as a community organizer, then in the state government helping his constituency, Clinton was in office doing you-know-what WITH his constituency. The Clintons had their fare share of scandals while in office. They are not clean either.

    Do not villify Obama for his indiscretions, at a time in his life when he probably did not know he wanted to be president, and then praise Bill Clinton as a president who cheated on his wife more than once while in the Oval Office working as president of the United States. Not to mention the "I didn't inhale incident".

    January 17, 2008 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  6. linda hemmingsen

    Why should he apoligize??????????Obama talked about it in his book, .He is trying to run for the presidency you should ask and have answers to questions that may affect his judgement, etc. Look what happened to bush he took drugs and he didn't seem to understand stuff and had people to do the business of the president. Obama says ghe is disorganized and needs to be told stuff just before he is to speak so he doesn't forget things,What!!!!!!!!!!!!! you need someone who understands things who the leaders of the world are , how to run a country.if it was okay for obama to put it in a book to make money, why isn't it okay for people to bring up and aske questions. ?The race card over and over again. People can't ask question unless they are looked over for any hint of preseved racisim how stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If obama is this sensitive, he will never make it because the republicans will tear him up. I am sick of them using the race card.Now the fuzz over the black cacaus. they are upset that some of them are with hillary . excuse me i thought you in america were a democracy? that you can vote for who you think is the best person for the job? now they are upset that the y won't come over to obama and be with him because he is black and they should be supporting a black man for president !!!!!!!!!!!!!! you can't have it both ways either barack is running on the race card or he is not!!!!!!!!!!!!!and the fact that people who do not vote for him is a rasicts is just pathetic, free democracy right !!!!!!!!

    January 17, 2008 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  7. Joe, SoCal

    THIS IS CLINTON MODUS OPERANDI! Throw out race as much as posible, be it in apology, comment, statement, whatever, and hope some of it sticks. Then Clinton will be viewed as the "white candidate", and Obama will be viewed as the "black candidate." This is a dynamic Obama can't win in America!

    January 17, 2008 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  8. TWC

    Here is the way i see these things played out:

    Hillary supporter "X" (surrogate) brings attention to something against Obama
    The media show it to us in 10 different ways
    Hillary clan denies they had anything to do with it
    "X" goes on record to apologize (raising the topic again with the media)
    Hillary goes on record to make sure we know she cannot control what supports say

    Hmmm... can't control surrogates? Give me a break. These campaigns know exactly how to control statements and the media!

    I for one, am not fooled!

    January 17, 2008 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  9. singh

    Wolf Blitzer -Situation Room – Headline: Bob Johnson apologizes to Barrack.

    What a great way to get free advertisement for Hillary!!!!!!!!!! Bill's strategy even fools Wolf to wringout free advertisement for Hillary!

    Wolf -was the coverage for genuinely airing the apology or an excuse to give Johnson an opportunity to pitch for Hillary one more time? That is what your follow up questions did -provide free airtime to Clintons!!!!!

    I wonder why you didn't let it go immediatly after airng the apology!!

    When is the media going to learn! When will the media figure out the Clintons' tactics to get free airtime!! They always seem to be playing Bill's card or are always being out-smarted by him to get free publicity for his wife!

    Wake up and cover the compaign news and issues as it is supposed to be and not be manipulated or outsmarted by a foxy ex-president to get free airtime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 17, 2008 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  10. cnn bias

    it seems that after waiting in the infinite "awaiting moderation" waiting room for my blog to post this afternoon, alas, it never did. It also seems that your blog has a better chance of posting if it is pro Obama.

    January 17, 2008 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  11. PW Va

    REMEMBER...YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!!!

    IF Hillary should happen to lose NV and/or SC, I fully expect her campaign (shhhh!) to come up with their own unique version of the "Harold Ford, Jr." ad (remember the commcercial with the very attractive white, young lady beckoning to Harold and at the end winking). The Clintons are just savvy enough to know how that will go over, especially here in the South.

    Just remember...you heard it here firs!!!

    January 17, 2008 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  12. Fem4Hillary

    Inspirational speeches and past presidential qoutes will not pay my rent or fix our economy... I need to hear him tell America in details how he plans to do everything he promises if he wants my vote.

    January 17, 2008 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  13. mess

    Oh, so it is OK for Obama to cry and be mad when he is criticized, but Clintons are not allowed to be upset for being criticized ? This is double standard. Not right.
    go Hillary!

    January 17, 2008 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  14. Kevin Topeka, KS

    LadyGeenSlippers-

    Welcome to true "equality". Even your own "brothers" can turn on you if it fits in their plans.

    January 17, 2008 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  15. Rico

    No mention of Chris Mathews sexist stance on Hillary.
    Is it ok to insult and degrade just because the subject is a women.
    That story deserves as much coverage as this one but then again it is pro Obama and anti Hilary channel.

    January 17, 2008 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  16. Adam, Chicago

    What a sorry apology. He is apologizing to an elected Senator, not a former rap star of his BET RAP Network, Bob Johnson who peddlled a false dream:

    (1) a television network tjhat would be a positive alternative to the network;
    (2) a network that would uplift and disperse to the world positive images of our (African-American) rich heritage.

    Instead he brokered a station that now ridicules young black women and promotes black men as "gangstas" and "pimps". What a role model!!????

    Here is a man, Senator Obama, who had the courage to confessed a youthful transgression in open public and Bob Johnson has the nerve to condemn him. What does Mr. Johnson leave for us to benefit from???

    Mr. Johnson leaves a legacy that mocks the very generation, we in education, are trying to reach and turn around before they detroy themselves.

    It must be nice to be a Billionaire and forget the obstacles (fear, ignorance, sickness, hate, death) our ancestors had to overcome to give us this opportunity, at this time, in this place and at this moment.

    January 17, 2008 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  17. Kellie

    Billary supporters, just admit it, Johnson was wrong and the Billary camp was wrong. they would not have made him apologize if that comment was not shown on the news.

    As for Bob Johnson, he cares about no one but himself. he has done nothing for the Black community. He took the news off of the network, and replaced it with nothing but 24 hour booty!

    If I were Obama, I wouldn't respond to it. Why bother? We all have done things as teenagers that we are not proud of; he knew that putting it in his book would bring out the CRAZIES FOR CLINTONS who have researched him back to the womb.

    the couldn't find anything of substance to use, so they instead showed how sleazy they are by making personal comments about something he did as a teenager. The Billary camp is a joke! HA HA

    OBAMA '08!

    January 17, 2008 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  18. Kellie

    TO ERIC IN MASS: GO HANG YOURSELF!

    January 17, 2008 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  19. Tim Calhoun '08, Moreno Valley, CA

    Chinnu said:

    "Fundamentally it is wrong. What about the OTHER people Who are working? UNFAIR Advantage for one side."

    It's only "unfair" because Obama received the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union and Hillary did not. Tough.

    "It is NOT a Voting Booth where you have more privacy."

    Good. Then it will make up for the stupid "Tom Bradley Effect" that supposedly lost Obama the race in New Hampshire.

    Speaking of...despite all the stories of possible voter fraud in New Hampshire
    , Obama didn't say ONE PEEP about it. He conducted himself with dignity and moved on. Unlike Hillary, who dismissed the results of the Iowa Caucus and criticized the system. And now you have the Clintons kvetching about the Nevada Caucus before it's even happened!

    Just like Obama removed his name from the ballot in Michigan out of accordance with a DEMOCRATIC PARTY RULING, while Hillary did not.

    I am BEYOND tired of the Clintons and their shenanigans. Obama/Edwards '08.

    January 18, 2008 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  20. Tim Calhoun '08, Moreno Valley, CA

    And I agree with Yalindo. Clinton supporters constantly mention how much the Clintons have done for the black community...so let's see some solid evidence. Can anyone give some SPECIFICS on what exactly they have done for the advancement of African Americans? (Other than posing for photo opps and gladly taking their endorsements, that is.)

    If people want to dig up youthful transgressions like Obama's drug usage, let's dig up Hillary's admitted support of the ANTI-CIVIL RIGHTS presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964.

    I'm not buying this "first black president" nonsense about Bill Clinton...and I surely don't buy it when it comes to his wife.

    January 18, 2008 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  21. Alan

    This is the same Bob Johnson doing a joint venture deal with The Carlyle Group. Not long ago, President Bush tried to pass him off as a "small business owner and community banker." I guess being a billionaire is small business to George and Co.

    So Bob is hedging his bets with the Obama apology. He will end up close to the people in power. Past behavior is usually a good predictor.

    January 18, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  22. usagoogle

    or burnt, personalities. in many had probably

    February 5, 2008 04:24 am at 4:24 am |
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