January 14th, 2008
07:18 AM ET
10 years ago

Clinton backer appears to raise Obama's drug use


Clinton and Johnson attended services at the Northminster Presbyterian Church Sunday (Photo Credit: AP)

(CNN) - BET founder and prominent Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson said Sunday he is 'insulted' with the Obama campaign's latest criticisms of Clinton, and appeared to take aim at the Illinois senator for his admitted drug use as a young man.

"As an African American, I'm frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing but he said it in his book," Johnson said while campaigning with Clinton in Columbia South Carolina.

In a statement released by Obama's campaign Sunday afternoon, former South Carolina State Rep. "I.S." Leevy Johnson, an Obama supporter, said he was offended Clinton did not condemn Johnson's comments.

“It’s offensive that Senator Clinton literally stood by and said nothing as another one of her campaign’s top supporters launched a personal, divisive attack on Barack Obama,” he said. “For someone who decries the politics of personal destruction, she should’ve immediately denounced these attacks on the spot.”

Clinton's campaign says Johnson was not referring to Obama's past drug use, but rather his career as an organizer and state legislator. Meanwhile, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, another African-American supporter of Clinton, said of the comments, "Sometimes people say things that aren't sanctioned ... I can't speak for Bob."

Later Sunday, Johnson maintained the comments were not in reference to Obama's drug use: "My comments today were referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else," he said in an issued statement. "Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

In Obama's 1995 book Dreams of My Father — a book that was little read at the time, but recently reprinted — the future presidential candidate writes he was once headed in the direction of a "junkie" and a "pothead."

Referring to his emotional struggles as a young man, Obama writes, "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though."

Last month, Clinton New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen resigned his post after suggesting Republicans would likely raise the issue in a general election.

"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight … and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," Shaheen said then. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'"

Both campaigns are locked in a heated back and forth over recent remarks from the New York Democrat and her husband that have touched off concerns among some African-American voters. Clinton has alleged Obama's campaign is distorting the remarks - an accusation Obama has called "ludicrous."

Related video: BET founder on Clinton, Obama

- CNN's Sasha Johnson and Alexander Mooney

soundoff (1,037 Responses)
  1. JOHN

    If Obama wins the nomination Then the republicans will get three votes from my household. Better than stay nutral and help him. You think an example of drug use even if admitting is a mistake is something that will be a good example for my kids and grand kids. Or they are going to say lets try out, since even our president did for a while that means is OK, if we admit our mistakes later on no harm done. I did not hear him once saying anything agauinst drug use or how to help the young people.
    And how do you know he will not go back to them when he gets involved with serious problems. I am praying he will not win

    January 14, 2008 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  2. AJ, IL

    The problem for any Democrat running against Hillary is they have to compete against Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is well-liked in the black community because he had more diversity in his cabinet positions and was publicly seen with more blacks than any other president. However Hillary is the total opposite. If the Hillary camp is going after Obama, they have to stick to the issues. Attacking Obama's message of hope and unity is not going to hack with the everyday American. Obama has to be more aggressive in sharing his life experiences that help shape the man that he is today. He needs to take more about his years as a community organizer in the rough sides of Chicago. Let everyday Americans know he fought in the trenches and sacrificed many things to do so. He drove a beat-up car, lived in a messed up apartment and earned only $13,000 a year.

    Hillary can't compete on this level because she fought for women and families as an attorney and partner at a prestigious law firm coming out of college making a high salary. Hers is not a sacrifice that lends itself to a sympathetic ear.

    January 14, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  3. rp

    Hello? Anyone home?? Obama admitted to using cocaine and marijuana. I beleive that is breaking the law and a possible felony conviction had he been caught. Is it fair to mention it now years later? Of course it is because it drives to the core values of a person. We all have had misfortunes in our lives but few of us would resort to using recreational drugs or breaking the law. He is no role model for the children despite his message of change with no experience to offer. I and my family all vote for Hillary.

    January 14, 2008 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  4. Greg

    Please people, isn't Edwards starting to look good yet?

    Start thinking.

    January 14, 2008 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  5. blissboy

    What the guy (Johnson) has said is disgusting and self-contradictory in many ways. Ironically, however, he plotted the downfall of Hillary lest he cand do something miraclous to effectively reverse her 'suporter's' claim.

    January 14, 2008 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  6. red

    Clinton has done more for the blacks in this country than Obama ever did. Do your own due dilgence and check the record. While you are at it, also check out the resumes of both and see the stark difference in experience. I do not want a rookie at the helm when the ,maelstorm of a recession, terrorism and other crises engulf this country.

    January 14, 2008 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  7. christine

    It appears the Clintons and her backers can say anything then retract it because they say they meant something else when called on it.Now i see what is meant by dirty politics. I voted for Senator Clinton.This presidential election has truly opened my eyes.All of these negative comments are pale(in a dim light) compared to statement made by Pres Clinton when he said Hillary will do anything to get what she wants done even make a deal with the devil,and she did.He told the story of her making a deal with Delaney the lobbyist. I said to myself what is he saying...what about her integrity,what did she have to give back in return for that favor,how many back room deals did she make? Vote for her for President of the United States of America, i DON'T think i will.Now with all of the tricks being played on Senator Obama i believe Clintons are behind everyone. I even believe something under handed was done to the votes in New Hampshire. I say this again because of her husband's statement telling everyone we were going to be surprise at the out come. I hope we can get past all of this and let the voters decide. what will be, will be.The news commentators are showing their bias' against Sen Obama,because they think he is attacking Senator Clinton,I don't see where he is they are doing to themselves.May the truth be told.

    January 14, 2008 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  8. Lee, NYC

    Once someone takes drugs and I don't care at what point they do, they rarely get
    off of drugs completely. Or they stop and then return to the habit, in times of distress.

    I have seen many young people die of drugs, because they were trying them for
    fun, but then got
    hooked. So no one knows whether or not Obama still dabbles in
    drugs or not. People who are addicted to drugs often lie. Admitting
    you used drugs doesn't make you an honest person, if Obama knew what he
    doing when he took the drugs he was breaking the law. Why did he admit drug
    use, was he looking for forgiveness or did he think someone would tell the American people if re ran for a public office, I really don't get why, he told about
    something not that important if he doesn't use drugs now.

    January 14, 2008 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  9. Concerned Voter

    First BET’s programming hasn’t always been as misogynistic and deviant as it has been in the last ten years. Having said that, Bob Johnson certainly doesn’t hold the least bit of moral high ground to make such comments about Obama or anyone else for that matter. His network has been a pariah of the african american community for far too long.

    The Clinton campaign is digging their own hole in South Carolina. I don’t think it’s one or two comments that will turn African American voters away. It’s the cumulative effect of several denigrating comments that she and her surrogates have made over the last few months. She’s fighting Obama as she would some Bush/Cheney republican and I personally find her tactics distasteful. Say what you want to about Obama and his substance and experience, but Hillary is setting a negative tone for this campaign and, god help us all, her eventual presidency.

    January 14, 2008 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  10. fde

    Obama is on record for having done drugs: cocaine and marijuana. Not even CNN cannot censure this despite their efforts to do so in a democratic society. Long live liberty and free speech. By the way, doing drugs does speak to the core values of a person and is not what we want to teach our children. We all adjust to stress in different ways but not by breaking the law and doing drugs!

    January 14, 2008 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  11. Sushannah

    Less than five minutes after Hillary Clinton spoke after her New Hampshire win, CNN talkers, reeling from the outcome as it went against their predictions and polls, raised the issue of race: Could our polls have been so far off because we were duped? People said they would vote for a bi-racial Aftrican American, but when they get in that voting booth, did they really? Raising the race issue at the time seemed transparent in its attempt to CYA regarding your pre-election polls. Now, it seems CNN is trying to blame the Clinton campaign for bringing it up at all. I am growing weary of your analysis. Would CNN have ever raised the issue: Oh, they say they will vote for a woman, but will they really in the privacy of the ballot booth? No. No. No. And, again No. CNN is shameless in its attempt to make this a horse race about race.

    January 14, 2008 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  12. james

    The Clintons and people like Bob Jonhson cannot fool us or stop the dreams of the American people. To think that Dr King efforts were useless without a politician as implied by the Clintons is unfounded. They are simply rewriting history or have been hiding under the pretence of political achievements to cover their racist tendencies. There are millions of us that fight daily to achieve our dreams, blacks , white , hispanic. The clintons assertion is that hopes and dreams which are a foundation of this society seized to exist. I will vote as a republican if Clinton gets the nominee

    January 14, 2008 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  13. shaun

    If all it takes is charisma, youthfulness and a nice smile..then heck, I should run for President. What about EXPERIENCE PEOPLE. Get a clue. I live in Nevada and I and a lot of my friends are voting for HILLARY. Politics are politics....take it for what it is...but at the end of the day...Hillary has pretty much run the country already under her husband. You Obama supporters really need to open your eyes.

    January 14, 2008 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  14. Steven Nuttall

    What about Bill Clintons drug use. (Cocaine) A proven fact!!!!!!! But of course the media such as CNN will dismiss this as a false accusation. All the Clintons are is a visual freak show from the past. Do we really need this again?? Let's move on!!!!

    January 14, 2008 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  15. B.C. in Virginia

    For the last week, like a lot of Americans, I have been riding the Obama roller coaster and applauding his charasmatic style of leadership. My journey on this ride, however, came to an abrupt halt today when I researched for myself this business regarding Mr. Obama's church. I was really disappointed in the chuch's "message" as posted on its website. I have been an open-minded Democrat all my life and I want nothing more than to see the Republicans defeated in this upcoming election, but I've got to tell you guys realistically that Mr. Obama's affiliation with this church will be enough to keep him from getting elected in a general election.

    I have seen some of his fellow church goers' postings on this blog, and given their comments, I am trying to remind myself that one's immediate perception of a thing is not always the correct one. However, given his church's strong rhetoric, it is going to be hard to convince me otherwise. If the language is too strong for me, I can only imagine what kind of turn off it will be to undecided middle-class voters in white suburbia. I understand there have been many injustices to the black race in this country and that there are many problems in Africa that we have turned a blind eye to over the years. You can't, however, as President of the United States stand beside a group that is "commited to Africa first". This country must come first so long as you are living here, always! This kind of rhetoric is too divisive. You don't solve the race problems of America by taking an extremist stand on the other side of the fence.

    Like I said, my perception may be wrong. But you Obama supporters had better realize that the language from this church's website alone will be used against your man, thus making him an unelectable candidate-just like Hillary. Right or wrong, the rural voters of America could care less about an article in Newsweek because the majority of them don't read. Knowledge of the truth didn't prevent Bush from getting elected. To Mr. Obama: either lose the church or lose the election. The choice is yours.

    January 14, 2008 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  16. Angela Marshall

    I concur with Parma,

    If Hillary gets the nomination because of uneducated voters, I will for the first time vote for the Republicans!!!

    January 14, 2008 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  17. Lynne Kennedy

    It is great that Mr. Johnson has elected to support Hillary, but consider the source. He cheated on his wife and had to pay her so much money she became the first black female billionaire. He was sued by his sister and settled with her for over one million dollars. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

    Mr. Johnson, stick to butty shaking videos and sleeping around!!!

    January 14, 2008 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  18. Charles in Salt Lake City, UT

    It's obvious that Bob Johnson has been sitting a little too close to Hillary Clinton - he's been infected by her chronic condition and become a BALD-FACED LIAR. I mean, come on! Look at the context of his original statement:

    'I'm frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing but he said it in his book."

    Analysis: To begin with, Johnson is clearly annoyed with the Obama campaign, so he is drawing a comparison to all of the great and noble and laudable acts of the Clintons as opposed to "something" that Mr. Obama was doing at the time of the Clintons' magnificent and totally altruistic sacrifices. Therefore, since he is building up the acts of the Clintons, it is unreasonable to infer that his statement is not also intended to denigrate the simultaneous acts of Mr. Obama.

    So what did he have to say about those acts of Obama's? He said that they were "something in the neighborhood" that he "wouldn't say," but that "he (Obama) had said it in his book." Hmm... now what did Obama say in his book that would be denigrating...? Well, the drug use Obama admitted to certainly would.

    Oh, but now Johnson is insisting he didn't mean the drug use! He's claiming that he was only referring to Obama's time as a community organizer, and that "any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

    The thing is, though, what's wrong with having worked as a community organizer as a young man? How is that denigrating to the point where it would fit the context and purpose of Johnson's remarks? And if that WAS what he meant (yeah, sure), then why wouldn't he say it?

    Frankly, this ridiculous and dishonest man is the one who must think WE'RE all stupid! Just like (either) Clinton, he is a LIAR!

    January 14, 2008 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  19. Nalla

    This is the greatest conspiracy I have ever seen. Bill and Hillary say something to provoke a controversy. Then, they turn around and accuse Barack's campaign for that outcry. What a tactic! Karl Rove must be working for them, paid for by the national GOP committee.

    I hope Hillary does not get nominated.....I will vote for any one, but her. Bill courted the black community for the votes and then later to pave the path for his wife. Same is true for their so-called affection to the Indian immigrant community. These two are innate politicians and Barack has to be very careful in how he responds and deals with these political boomerangs.

    Go Obama, for ever !

    January 14, 2008 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  20. Evan, Long Beach

    Bob Johnson owns BET, an urban, hip-hop television station that plays music videos of thugs and gangsters describing their escapades in drugs and crime.

    So why would Bob Johnson now be offended by what Obama was "doing ... in the neighborhood", considering he made his millions promoting those very same acts?

    Sounds like a case of "the pot calling the kettle black" to me.

    January 14, 2008 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  21. Sandra

    Every time Clinton or one of her surrogates attacks Senator Obama, I am making a $50 donation to his campaign.

    Keep it up, Hillary.

    January 14, 2008 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  22. permalik078 iowa

    we need to have a president that we can criticize and call him all kind of names without being called racist. not being afraid cause you will be called a racis

    January 14, 2008 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  23. Benny Lava

    Democrats have a choice. Either they can unite the anti-Clinton vote, or they can sit back and watch the Republicans do it.

    January 14, 2008 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  24. Fred

    Hello! Hillary is the one bringing up race. Obama responds by saying nothing, at least for a few days. Hillary gets torn apart by the media and black leaders. She then blames Obama. That's why she's being criticized. She's blaming Obama for a mess she got herself into.

    It would be like John Kerry blaming George W. Bush for criticism on his "stuck in Iraq" comment.

    January 14, 2008 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  25. george a.

    shame on bob johnson, NOT for the comment (though regretable), but for the dishonest effort to cover it up

    January 14, 2008 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
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