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. Dan

    The idea that "Hillary didn't make the comment" is absurd.
    Bob Johnson introduced Senator Clinton at this event. If she found this allusion to Senator Obama's drug use when he was a teen to be inappropriate and not how she wants to conduct her campaign, she would have repudiated the remark. Instead, her campaign issues a statement saying that Mr. Johnson was referring to Senator Obama's work in the community. Does the Clinton campaign think the electorate is that naive?

    I think that Senator Clinton is more than qualified to be our next President, but if she is going to take her primary race into the gutter, then what will the general election devolve into? And this is coming from the same person who chided John Edwards in a prior debate for using attacks that are "straight out of the Republican playbook." I suppose the GOP faxed a copy over to the Clinton headquarters.

    I have fond memories of Bill Clinton's presidency, but this nonsense is making the bad memories just roil back to the surface.

    Personally, I've had enough of the hyper-partisanship in our government. We need leadership that will put the left/right, red/blue zeitgeist aside and work to solve the problems this country has. I don't think that Senator Clinton is either able or willing to do so....this is just more of the same old nonsense.

    January 14, 2008 01:35 am at 1:35 am |

    I am rethinking my decision for the democratic party. I do'nt see antyhing sqeaky clean, aout Hillary Rodham Clinton's past. Oh! How de we forgot. Its' very sad, this nation is about to make history with possibly a first Black president of the first woman president; the only way we know how to conjure up votes is using the race card.

    1. What about the war.
    2. The economy
    3. Healthcare
    4. Social Security

    January 14, 2008 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  3. Azar

    Hillary Vs. Obama American Election 2008:

    Nobody thinks that African Americans are stupid, if you have read the chronology of the racial attacks on Obama by the Clintons and their top advisors, then you have noticed that they started the race issue. For example, a top Clinton aide called him “boy” and Bill Clinton called him “kid” which is another version of “boy”. Since you and Mr. Johnson are African Americans, you know what those words mean.

    Regarding Martin Luther King, Hillary met him in 1962, but in 1964 she campaigned for the conservative, Barry Goldwater, who was anti civil rights. How come?

    The Clintons will throw dirt at Obama, and if he or his supporters respond, they will accuse Obama and his team. That is Karl Rove type of style of dirty war, which they have decided to win at all, cost.

    January 14, 2008 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  4. Gerry O'Connor

    As an outsider looking in from Ireland. Please, please do not mess it up again. The Republicans are laughing up their sleeves. Both Democratic contenders are giving them plenty of ammo. They, the Republicans, are helping this with their press and no doubt comments, just look at the comments made! They are applying the old method, divide and conquer.
    Wise up and unite and give the whole world a chance this time.

    January 14, 2008 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  5. John

    Ironic that Johnson will allude disparagingly to Obama's youthful drug use while the television channel Johnson founded joyously and shamelessly promotes drug, sex and gang culture. I believe the V-chip would block out gun-toting, weed-smoking, booty-bouncing BET in it's entirety.

    January 14, 2008 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  6. Aaron_Incongruity

    This is so ridiculous. Obama isn't the one in a back-and-forth about the Clinton's comments about MLK and race. James E. Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, a neutral Democrat from S.C., is the one who publicly stated that BOTH of the Clinton's comments could have been interpreted as offensive and that they (the Clintons) needed to "be very, very careful." (~New York Times)

    The separate comments from both of the clintons on race and MLK were enough for Mr. Clyburn to reconsider his neutrality in the democratic primary.

    The Obama Camp hasn't even commented on Hillary or Bills comments.
    How can they be interjecting Race into the discussion while remaining above the fray?


    January 14, 2008 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  7. Undecided Democrat, USA

    I found this funny exchange of one-liners between Obama and Clinton supporters on a blog about Daschle attacking Hillary:

    Re: Daschle taking on Clinton (none / 0)

    You really have a talent for offensive remarks. No wonder you like Clintons style.

    by upper left on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 08:45:06 PM EST

    Re: Daschle taking on Clinton (none / 0)

    You find reality offensive. No wonder you're comfortable with the Obama campaign.

    by the water hen on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 09:22:30 PM EST

    January 14, 2008 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  8. sierra o'neil

    It certainly appears that Hilray will attack Obama in any means just to get ahead. However in reading a book about Hilrary, did she not also experiment with pot, and lesbianism? Not to mention both their extra affairs with each other while being with each other? I don't hear much of her past yet, someone needs to dig dirty if she is digging dirty, then we would all re-consider vote. Hats off to Obama, I'm sure he'd make a wonderful President...Go OBAMA!

    January 14, 2008 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  9. Allen

    Bob Johnson stands for everything Hillary Clinton OUGHT to be against. This man single-handedly set the cause of African Americans back hundreds of years. His exploitation of Black women and girls is particularly morally repugnant. Hillary Clinton is supposed to be a defender of the American worker, yet Bob Johnson made his billions at Black Entertainment Television by notoriously paying his on air talent slave wages.

    Who cares what Bob Johnson has to say about race issues? This dude perpetuated, abused, and profited from the caricature and stereotype of black men and women on BET. Worse, Bob Johnson is a billionaire. He is too rich to continue doing the destructive bidding for the Clintons. His behavior at Columbia leads one to ask "what's he getting for this?"

    This is the same guy who sold BET to Viacom, took his money, and with it watched Bet's programming and reflection of black youth get even worse and go further down the drain

    January 14, 2008 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  10. Anonymous

    I wonder what Mrs. Clinton knows about being in the military, and how long she served?

    January 14, 2008 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  11. Amber from WC Iowa

    This "Obama and his drug use" issue is getting blown way out of proportion. I am sick and tired of hearing about it. I would like to know the percentage of the people criticizing him that have smoked some pot...I come from an era where I have to ask myself "who HASN'T smoked it?"

    First and foremost, I appreciate Mr. Obama's honesty. I take into consideration that he has nothing to hide. I also love the fact that he is a WONDERFUL ROLE MODEL to those struggling with issues, whether it is drug use, alcohol use, emotional issues, growing up in poverty etc; it proves that people who are heading down the wrong road CAN change and do better.

    Our society needs to quit focusing on peoples' pasts, and concentrate on the present. When I was growing up, I was heading down the wrong road...big time. I was into drugs, skipped school, never come home, and participated in other juvenile delinquent activities. Since then, I changed my lifestyle, put MYSELF through college to earn a double major BA, and now currently have a wonderful family and a career in Corrections. I am NOT the same person I was back then.

    And as for the Clintons...come on. Adultry in the White House? Bill didn't have sexual relations with that woman? Then we find out he did, and Hillary stays?

    No matter what people say about Senator Obama, I will still continue support him.

    January 14, 2008 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  12. RAFi68

    ok here are the obama people acting like if they were going to vote for hillary bunh of hiprocrity , if obama wins this means that we are going to have another 4 years of republican in the white house . obama will not and cannot resolve anything he does not have a plan to fix anything , he only talks about change and the only chane he is going to do is turn the white house into a church .......i belive for many reason we are goinbg to pay a big price if we choose obama .

    January 14, 2008 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  13. Pat

    Even thou at some point He may need to address the issue I feel the best way is the Higher way and keep telling us what we can accomplish and what he can do and that change is possible by voting for someone new, I'm a Senior age women and I do not support Hillary and I do not think I'm the only one and I really do not like being put in a catagory. At this point we just need to get out the vote better then they do. GO AND VOTE FOR CHANGE VOTE FOR OBAMA

    January 14, 2008 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  14. Jerry Connor

    What exactly did Hilary Clinton say? Please someone from the Obama camp tell me. They are over the top in their reaction. Of course Obama told about drugs etc, it would be found out! Obama will be investigated from top to bottom and side to side if he gets the nomination, I just hope that all the skeletons are now out of the closet. The Clintons have already been done over by the American equivalent of The Spanish Inquisition. Of course they are not perfect, is Obama? I will wait and see.
    Stop jumping to conclusions, get a grip, do not let Republican propaganda and the hate campaigners win again.
    Listen to what both contenders say, not what other people imply what they said.
    Make up your own mind, do not let it be made up for you

    January 14, 2008 01:58 am at 1:58 am |
  15. Jonathan in Chicago

    First, I gotta say I truly deplore this whole mess. For me, President Clinton served this country admirably, and the attacks made against him, and Hillary during the waning years of his presidency were unwarranted and unfair. I imagine it is from this experience that the Clintons developed their default attack posture when on the defensive; they have repeatedly found it necessary to employ such tactics throughout their political careers and have become very adept at undermining opponents through indirect personal attacks and the like. But, if your reading this Hillary, such tactics (particularly when directed against a fellow democrat) are counterproductive to your current campaign. You are a good and decent candidate and should allow your warmth and humanity (not your calculatedness and defensiveness) speak for you. You open yourself up to ridicule and engender distaste in those who would or might support you.

    Second, I found Mr. Johnson's comments incredibly offensive, and his dishonesty insulting. To suggest that he was not referring to Obama's frank and honest admission of his early experiences with drugs is absurd...as the quote clearly indicates, he begins by praising the Clintons for their work in support of 'black issues' and then condemns Obama for what he was doing 'in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing but he said it in his book'– the Clinton campaign and Johnson then assert that he was referring to his community organizing and state rep work - in other words, the work Obama undertook as a civil right activist, a community organizer for black issues, and a strong and vocal advocate for his ALL of his constituents - regardless of color or ethnicity. Johnson was plainly referencing his admission of early drug use, because if he was in fact speaking of what he claims he was referencing, he would be offering no contrast between the Clintons and Obama at all – and would in fact be lending additional support and credibility to Obama's considerable experience as an advocate for civil rights.

    Mr. Johnson, you were taking a very cheap shot and then lacked the courage and decency to hold yourself accountable for this failing. This is not leadership and shows a profound and disturbing lack of integrity; your lack of honesty and integrity is all the glaring, given that you attempt to do undermine another through his own courageous and admirable honesty and integrity. The Clinton Campaign should do the right thing, and demonstrate the leadership and integrity they model through a clear and unmistakable statement of accountability that disavows the comments made by Bob Johnson.

    January 14, 2008 02:04 am at 2:04 am |
  16. Sharell L. Grant

    How did Hillary set the record straight? By over-using the phrase "pre-emptive war"? It's called DODGING, not handling. She knew full well that a 'yea' vote was a vote for the war...plain and simple. She's desperate, and she's a phony. She puts on various masks throughout the day, depending on her audience. For example, for Tim Russert, she slams Obama, and yet seemingly in the same breath in front of an African American church congregation, she says how proud she is of him. Give me a break.

    January 14, 2008 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  17. deroy

    i thought using churches for political rallies was illegal.

    take away their tax free status.

    make these political clubs posing as churches pay their taxes.

    more crooked reverends.

    January 14, 2008 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  18. Jeff

    The Clintons are getting dirty. They're setting a trap, attempting to force Obama to talk about race in order to defend himself against attacks so that they can claim that Obama is using the "race card." The Clintons are the only ones using the "race card", with such things like Bill telling the black community that with Hillary, "you know where her heart is."

    The media is also playing a hand in this trap, widely reporting Senator Clinton's allegations while scarcely reporting Senator Obama's retort in which he sets the record straight without getting into race politics. The Clinton camp is also playing the "gender card", most notably when Senator Clinton stated during the debate that running as a woman qualifies as "change." After the new hampshire primaries, at an event, a woman came up to Clinton and commended her for "playing the gender card" in New Hampshire, to which Clinton laughed and thanked her. Now, thanks to the incompetent media, people who don't do their homework will think that Obama is playing the "race card" when he hasn't used his race as a factor in his campaign, and hadn't even given mention to the Clintons' race accusations until yesterday. This is what's so wrong with our media; the fact that constant repetition of false information can shape our views on issues if we are too lazy to search for the truth ourselves, something which too many of us are.

    I'm a New York Democrat. I loved Bill Clinton as President. I liked his wife as well. I actually live about 20 minutes away from their residence. As this campaign went on, and Clinton started going negative, it really revealed her character and I began not to like her, but still loved Bill. However, now that Bill is engaging in the same kind of decietful political tactics that one would expect from Karl Rove, I have lost respect from him as well. Nothing can tarnish his great job as President, but intentionally distorting Obama's record on Iraq and using the "reverse race card" is something that could be found on page one of Karl Rove's playbook. If Hillary wins the nomination, I will gladly vote for any Republican (except Gulliani) because I cannot in good faith vote for someone who would use swiftboat tactics and outright lies to win an election. This sad, desperate display of deciet by the Clintons confirms that we need what Obama is trying to achieve: a step away from the smallness of politics

    January 14, 2008 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  19. RAFi68

    people pleaseeee here me i am going to tell you a secrect hillary , and obama have a deal who ever wins will choose the other as vice president ...... and let me predict how it will finish hillary will be president and obama vice president . and why hillary will ny , fl , nj, cal, the electoral staed vote .. this is all you need . so i guess now you know for who you have to vote for ok ......

    January 14, 2008 02:18 am at 2:18 am |
  20. Ray in Las Vegas

    How hypocritical can you get? The programming on BET is not only degrading to women with their late night videos, it glorifies gangster culture, including drug use and crime. Bob Johnson has become a billionaire by exploiting his own people in the most negative way. Bob Johnson was purveying filth to an entire generation of vulnerable youth while Barack Obama was working in the most troubled communities of Chicago, uplifting the powerless.

    Tactics like these show how desperate the Clinton campaign has become. Keep it up, Hillary! You are digging your own political grave with friends like these. Obama is 21st Century, while you are old news.

    January 14, 2008 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  21. amazed

    I just can't believe people can't see through all of this. Obama is not feeling the wrath of the news media because they are saving him for the general election. No experience + a troubled past= they will lay him out like an old rug, and the republicans will hold the office again. Major news media owned and opperated by big time republicans. Yeah, I'm sure the Murdocks want a Dem to win. You want change??? There is no bigger change in this country than having a woman as President!! Hell, I'm a male, and I'll even admitt that men have been screwing this up long enough, might as well give a woman a shot. I wouldn't mind seeing Obama as the Vice President to gain the experience and then be the President in the future. In that scenario the Dems have the chance to hold that office for the next 16 years! Lets get back to reality here though, this isn't a contest for the next American Idol that we are voting on, this is for the President of the United States. If thats the case, hell, lets vote in Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Wesley Snipes, or Justin Timberlake....etc.....I hope you get my point. Voting for someone because of looks and because "l like the way he talks" does not cut it for President of the most powerful country in the world.

    January 14, 2008 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  22. Kyle

    In all seriousness Johnson is a terrible terrible man. He is a pusher of garbage television reguardless of what race it is aimed at. Gold chains, half naked women, and horrible moral values are infesting the BET airwaves. Hillary and that man are just trying to play African American people in their game of dirty politics. Don't buy it America, don't buy this degradation and smut from these pushers. We need to let these types know we see through them and we want real change. Vote with your head in 08!!

    January 14, 2008 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  23. MG

    I am shocked at what I am reading on this blog. Many of you are actually BLAMING Hillary and Bill, when they did absolutely nothing wrong! I have listened to those two interviews, I am sensitve to race issues, and NOTHING inappropriate was said. Obama's camp is the guilty ones here, they are raising the race card, they are desperate, they are blowing this nothing situation well out of proportion. Why are you blaming Hillary, why are you saying this is her fault? She could have said "I like apples", and someone can put that out of context and say it's racist! What are you saying, all white candidates should just keep their mouths shut, so they won't risk being accused of being racist?

    Obama is tearing the country apart, don't you see it? People are finally paying attention to his unimpressive record, he's getting scared and desperate, and will stoop this LOW to smear Hillary. Furthermore, she has media proof, and he says he is not involved, so he is lying about it too. How can you possibly see this evil man as a Uniter, as a leader? Please folks; see the light, forget the hype, seek the truth.

    January 14, 2008 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
  24. Dutchboy52

    Bob and Hillary, a picture is worth a million words......this is hi-tech black on black crime, Bob Johnson was all that really called for.......are you sure you founded BET, well I hope you sell it because you sure look sold-out.

    January 14, 2008 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
  25. chris

    i am kind of surprise by all this drug talk when campaign explained they were talking about his record.

    seems like some of you missed the Meet the Press with Hillary yesterday. I suggest you go back and watch the hour long discussion.

    it just amazes that people cant even get their butt out of the sand and think rationally about what is going on around you.

    Hillary hasnt made an issue of sex, race, etc. its the other campaigns.

    January 14, 2008 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
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