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. Trang, Fremont, CA

    Hillary, I am disappointed with you again.

    I watched you on 'Tim Russert' show. Obama never made 'race' an issue. The media might make it a 'race' issued. The people might want to make it a 'race' issue. They want to see that they overcome the 'race' issue. You claim that Obama made it a issue. He never did. His supporters might – but it's not him. Another sign of your shallow understanding. You put words in people's mouth and then say it's their fault. You like to blame people when things don't go your way.

    Obama simply sees his gift and uses it to bring people together. Of course, when he hear comments that are divisive, he will point it out to you. You have a choice – whether to heed the advice or ignore the advice. You choice in this case is to ignore the advice and perpetuate divisiness.

    You increasingly follow Obama's lead and use 'we' much more often. Who is 'we' are you thinking of? The people who are supporting you? Your language of divisiveness will reduce this 'we' further, and eventually, you will become an ineffective leader.

    As far as Bob Johnson is concerned – does he think we are stupid not to see his intention in that statement? And then lie about it. He, like you, is using divisive tactics, aimed at putting down another fellow human being.

    January 14, 2008 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  2. Edward

    I am shocked!!!! How can u Bob....I really like Hillary.. but to imply that the Obama campaign is trying to use the MLK comments to their advantage is just ludacris. Saying Obama has no experience is one thing, but to lie about issues is just low. By the way, just because u support a candidate does not give them immunity to disagreements. Hillary should just appologise and put this story behind them.
    Hillary...Obama would make a good ticket.

    January 14, 2008 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  3. jim H, Glendale, CA

    It insults me that Obama hasn't condemned Chris Matthews, with all his crazy and ill-informed attacks on Hillary. But he doesn't, does he? Obama admitted it in his book, for which he gets props from me. The founder of BET isn't entitled to his own opinion? The touchiness is getting pretty annoying. He did drugs in his '20s. He hasn't done them for a long while. We just are getting through the administration of a reformed coke freak. Obama's got no problems with it. It was 25 years ago. Get a life.

    You know, the part of the Swift Boat stuff that was revolting was the lies about his faking wounds and lying about his record, when the exact opposite was true. But when they said they didn't approve of Kerry's leading the Vietnam Vets Against the War, that was mostly true - and they're entitled to their opinion.

    Obama's former drug use, which he admits, makes no difference to me. But it may make differences to others. It didn't bother me that Bill Clinton avoided the draft for a war he didn't agree with, too. But it bothered others. They're entitled to their opinion of that, too. Something he admits, which is true, can't be brought up by anybody? Why not? Is he hiding something?

    January 14, 2008 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  4. e harrison

    Perhaps Barack would have benefitted by declaring that he had "never inhaled" as the truth is not something we are accustomed to hearing. At the beginning of this run, I seriously thought that this is historic and will give us (the voters) real candidates to choose from. Hilary, Barack, and John are all fascinating people and each have a message that is truly important.

    Now, I am not so sure. Hilary is turning into a true Washington politician, who keeps harping about experience and voting records, neither of which she should be so pround. She is a desparate alley cat and I do not like her tactics. For me, the race is now a two way, Barack and John, versus the 3way battle for the nomination.

    I now hope that voters see her for what she is–

    January 14, 2008 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  5. Alex

    I have heard a lot of people ask why Barack Obama is not attacked. Well, it's because Obama has not used the mud-slinging politics of the Clintons. He has run a very honest, clean, and rational campaign. As far as Obama throwing the 'race' card. When? I have followed Obama closely and from what I have seen he has tried to DIMINISH his race as an issue. He wants people to vote for him because he gives America the best chance to succeed not because he would be the first black President or because he feels he is 'entitled' to it. So, before you make any irrational comments please get your facts straight.

    I think the HIlary Clinton comment on King was taken out of context but not by Obama. However, she also angered me greatly by saying that Obama MADE it an issue when it was HER who made the comment. All Obama said was that "Words Matter" words like, "I have a Dream," and "It's not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." And he's right they weren't just words. But I hardly see that as throwing the 'race' card. Ultimately, I thought about supporting HIlary if she won the ticket, but I can see now that she really is only interested in petty politics and elections not about the issues or the people she stands for. She has lost my vote.

    January 14, 2008 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  6. liz

    Obama is running for the President of USA, why should he be protected from his own record? Why should his drug record off-limit? A responsible person, certainly one would wish the President would be, should be able to face his/her won record. If Obama is too weak to face his own record, can he face the challenge for the presidency?

    January 14, 2008 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  7. chris

    Since when has BET been a champion for upstanding values?
    Many of the so called entertainers who are lining Bob Johnson's pockets have also consistently been the poster children for gun violence, drug dealing, and the objectification of women in their music videos. These overnight stars have marketed a lifestyle of these morals to young people – and as a result this man has been able to laugh all the way to the bank as the founder of this enterprise. After all of this, Johnson then has the gaul to self righteously attack Obama for a personal misjudgment that he made in his youth? Johnson should take a good long look in the mirror and truly examine his own history, before he brashly attacks the history of someone else.
    Hillary, you're getting sloppy.

    January 14, 2008 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  8. robin

    Hillary Clinton ,
    Is stooping to all time lows . First with her crying jig. If she can run with the big men she can take a hit like a big man . This whole race thing is going way to far now . Bob Johnson with his remakes about Barack old drug use as a young man . They need to remember whom said he tried pot but did not inhale .
    Was that not Bill Clinton .? Also Barack never said anything wrong about Mr . King And President Johnson or JFK. It all started when she said Barack needs to stop giving false hopes . He said in all his speeches . Is it false hopes when a president sent a man on moon . Is it false hope when MLK stood at the reflecting pond and gave his I had a dream speech . It time to tell the truth . Show Barack speeches and you'll see he said nothing wrong . This seems to me that Hillary and Bill can't take the fact most American are all done with them . They had there turn it time to move on .
    This is one many reason I;ll will not vote for her . She pulling some sneaky stuff to get votes and support . I think anyone wants to know what really going on just go Barack web page and take a look for them self and listen to he speeches.
    Makes me wonder if Hillary herself ever listen to his speech .?
    I can understand how she must hurt because shes not the rock star the Clinton use to be , Hillary need to stop acting like a baby and be the president candidate she should be strong .
    Well wonder who's going to be crying next when she loses . This is far from over . I just hope there be no cheating . Seems she will do anything and say anything to get votes.
    Some can see threw her and know what she doing . So stop it now .
    No wonder i never liked her . She cold and a flip flopper herself . Go to no end to win .

    January 14, 2008 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  9. Alex

    Also, I want to point out that Obama has made a lot more change in people's lives than Hilary. Lets be honest, as much as we bicker and fight and as much money as the government 'supposedly' throws at us, it hardly seems to affect us much. My life has not been changed by the government because I am pretty well-off. So, I do not need their help. However, when Hilary was sipping tea with her friends in the White House, Obama was on the streets helping and CHANGING peoples lives for the better as a community organizer and as a Civil Rights lawyer. Obama has made more direct change in more people's lives than the Clintons have ever done and I respect the man greatly for that.

    January 14, 2008 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  10. jim H, Glendale, CA

    Note to self: Obama wants to win in South Carolina, and get a lot of the black votes to do it - when Hillary was ahead. In order to do that, he's got to take offense at the mildest comment by the most sympathetic friends, that could be, if you stretch, be interpreted as a slap at his past, but equally possibly is not. Why would his friend, Bob Johnson, make a "dirty" comment about somebody he supported, who appealed to him for funds? Answer: his supporters have to be pried loose from the very positive impression the Clintons have made on black people in this country. So he's forced to paint them as making disparaging remarks about Martin Luther King, and deliberately deploying people to shamefully talk about something he's already acknowledged, except he may not have even be thinking of the same thing. This is a political strategy, and it involves Obama stepping off his perch as a black guy that whites can be comfortable with, and launching the same kind of attack as Sharpton does. Not fair. Not right, and not "noble."

    January 14, 2008 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  11. Erin

    The Clinton's rarely did their own dirty work. You would not find Barack sanctioning one of his major supporters talking about the former President Clinton staggering through his lies, impeachment and thinking we would buy his shape-shifting when he didn't seem to know the definition of the word "is". This (and the Nevada caucus legal actions) are the Clinton machine at work. Mrs. Clinton is calling the media unfair – will that be her response when something doesn't work for her in the middle east? Will Bill be there to come to her defense then? Who are we voting for here?

    Give me a break Hillster

    Are we tired of this yet?

    January 14, 2008 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  12. Ozzy

    When are we gonna start talking about the blood diamonds in south africa and genocide in darfur?

    January 14, 2008 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  13. Jean

    Why is Bob Johnson getting so much press??? Bob Johnson can support Mrs. Clinton if he wants to. Because a politian or elected official does his or her job at the time DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANYONE HAS TO SPEND A LIFE TIME REPAYING circumstances do change.

    January 14, 2008 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  14. Bee

    What the Clintons are doing is both shameful, dishonest and calculated. These are two very intelligent and savvy individuals. To try to put a veil over the public's eyes by suggesting others are distorting their "innocent" remarks is to insult people's intelligence. Politics as usual...and clearly Mrs Clinton is very experienced at it. I now understand why she is running under the experience mantra.

    January 14, 2008 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  15. Hello

    There seems to be double standard.

    There is so much hate for Hilary in the comments here. It's not OK for Hilary, it's not OK for us. Let's put a mirror infront of our own words that have been commented here...makes me shameful of who we are!

    January 14, 2008 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  16. Christine

    Bob Johnson is just trying to cut a side deal with Hill, I don't trust him.

    January 14, 2008 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  17. Robin Wagner from ct

    Its so sad to our ex prez of this Usa speak like he did . Like a child . Sad We need a change . This Bush , Clinton thing it is time for a new face in our White house .Its we the people after all .
    NOT WE BUSH, CLINTON .. Barack is a voice of fresh air . He can unite this country . He is a good man and lovely family . Its time for new . Because hes Black man means nothing to me . But it always going to far when the race card is use to get votes. Especially when never said these thing about MLK And President JFK OR Johnson . When are American politics ever going to stop this crap . See whats happen is Clinton never ran agents a Black man . And the real Clinton coming out . Like none ever saw before . I Hills book the Clinton wanted back in White House again. Well move on Hill grow up no crying . We only want to you cry when you lose .

    January 14, 2008 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  18. Christopher, DC

    Fast forward to the future...

    The first day in the White House. What can we expect from Obama? Probably one word........."Present"

    Forget about the teen drug use. Lets look at his time in Illinois. 800 changes to make "change" 700 votes of "present."

    The Media needs to spend some time in Chicago and talking to the people that are familiar with all of his methods toward change.

    If we all take our government back to make this change...does this mean I am up for a cabinet position? Do we all get direct access to the oval office? Other than making him the potential president – what will he actually enable us to do?

    I'm all for hope. Who isn't? Maybe all those who voted for the "uniter" – twice.

    Mr. O is a great motivational speaker but he is no Bobby Kennedy. Think about the history (ehem EXPERIENCE) Bobby had before his presidential campaign. I don't remember Mr. O in a position like Attorney General. What has he done? Then we can determine what he might do.

    Lets please use our brains.

    January 14, 2008 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  19. Kay, St. Louis, MO

    This race is disgusting to me. It's beyond sad. I am a dem. but I will not be apart of this slash and burn politics at it's worst. If Senator Clinton is the nominee I will sit this one out and pray for better days in 4 years.

    January 14, 2008 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  20. Robin Wagner from ct

    Look the bottom line is I was for Hill until i saw the real hill . FAke fake fake cry like a baby . Play with the big men get smacked like a big man. Take a hit ,
    Dont attack Barack ok . He did not do anything but gave a powerful speech ,

    January 14, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  21. mary marincik

    I am so tired of the media spin on the candidates and especially on Hillary Clinton. Hillary is my candidate. I have been following these campaigns from the beginning,as I do in all elections, and I have begun reading the actual statements by the candidates instead of listening only to cnn's view or other media stations.
    It seems to me that all the candidates voted time and time again on funds to support the troops but only Hillary is getting fire from it. The Martin Luther King statement has also been completely blown out of porportion. I have no respect for any media and certainly am ashamed of all of us. I support Hillary because I believe she is committed to taking America back to where she belongs " to the people". I am very tired of the off color comments of "the good old boys" and have certainly seen lately on cnn the inuendos from a few of the journalist, I use the term loosely. WE want the candidates to play fair how about the Media.

    January 14, 2008 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  22. California


    January 14, 2008 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  23. Micahel Guinn, Ventura, CA

    Oh Joan- get a clue! HRC is same old beltway barking! Obama 08!

    January 14, 2008 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  24. method

    Obama never ran on a RACE platform.All he want's to do is heal this country of gender,racial, partisan divide and economic disparity. I wonder if Americans have mortgaged this country to the BUSHES and the CLINTONS. Did Hillary check on Bill Richardson or Joe Biden's experiences before boasting about hers. All we need is a different direction and ideas. Should Hillary win, I am moving to FRANCE. Enough is Enough.

    January 14, 2008 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  25. Mrs. America

    It is certainly a topic that will come up before the general election if Obama is the nominee. That doesn't make what Bob Johnson said excusable, but if anyone thinks the Reps aren't going to jump all over Obama's drug use, they are living in a "fairy tale." How the Rep nominee is going to defend the current alcoholic in the WH as he goes on the Obama attack will be interesting . Say Obama will run a government as poorly as GW has?

    January 14, 2008 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
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