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. C.J. Harris

    As a black woman and long time supporter of the Clintons, I was appalled and very disappointed by the comments Bob Johnson made concerning Senator Obama . What bothers me most is that he said it in a church setting and in the presence of Senator Clinton. His statement and the video clearly confirms the Clintons "hardball political machine tactics" via Mr. (big business)Johnson are steam rolling ahead. I'm now convinced that the Bush/Ciinton type of politics must go. I WILL VOTE FOR SENATOR OBAMA!!!!!

    January 14, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  2. Dwayne, Pa

    It amazes me that so many Americans are so "in the clouds" that they can not see what the Clinton campaign and some of her TV network supporters are doing.
    These sly comments get put out there by the Clinton campaign, and then all you hear is the Clinton campaign defending the comments.
    I hear very little from Obama about the comments, but every time you see a clip of a Hillary supporter, they are saying that the Obama campaign is twisting this and twisting that.
    I think the next debate should be Hillary Clinton debating Hillary Clinton. That would be an awesome debate!

    January 14, 2008 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  3. joan

    the Clintons better start monitoring what people are saying in their behalf... these kinds of remark (as those made by the BET mongol) will do nothing but alienate people.
    Take the high road and quit the negatic rhetoric.

    Bill will start to become a liability if he keeps it up. Get back to basics, like the issues... there are plenty of things wrong with Washington right now, we don't need to fish for issues which need improvement.

    Talk about the CIA tapes which were destroyed don't fight the dems.... fight the pattern of government we have seen for the last 8 years and talk about how we will take a different approach.

    People are sick to death of negative campaigning.

    January 14, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  4. Independent in IA

    I see no reason for an apology. The truth hurts sometimes.

    January 14, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  5. Joseph

    So just want to make sure I'm correct on what's allowed in this context.

    It's perfectly ok to call Clinton a racist.

    But it's absolutely not allowed to point out that Obama did drugs.

    I just want to make sure I know the rules when the great uniter brings us all together for the group hug.

    For those saying Obama had nothing to do with peddling Hillary as a racist, it is clearly stated – though not on CNN strangely – that it was his South Carolina head campaign advisor who was developing talking points for just that purpose. The memo is out there.

    Why, how inspirational of her!

    Give me a break.

    January 14, 2008 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  6. anonymous

    Can someone please explain the Clinton allegation that Obama has brought race in to this? What has he ever said or done to bring race in to it? She's blaming him for her own statements and the public reaction to it. He never reacted. I don' get it. Did I miss some statement of his or something?

    January 14, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  7. Peter Damoah-Afari

    Obama took drugs when he was a boy.......... but Bill Clinton had an affair when he was in whitehouse. Yet Bill Clinton is on the stage destroying Obama to pave way for his wife.

    January 14, 2008 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  8. Lollapalooza !

    On another blog.

    I Wonder what Rep. James Clyburn's going to make of Johnson's comments? As many people know by now the lawmaker, the highest ranking African-American in the House leadership and a very influential man in South Carolina, didn't take kindly to the Clinton comments and now he's got a whole set of new ones to ponder, along with whether he should remain neutral or show his unhappiness with the Clinton's by endorsing Obama.

    One thing that makes Johnson's comments more interesting in connection with Clyburn is that Johnson, the chief executive officer of RLJ Cos.,. has generously contributed to Clyburn, as he has to other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. For that reason, it would be a stunning thing indeed if Clyburn rebuked Johnson the way he has the Clintons.

    January 14, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  9. Natasha

    When did Obama play the race card?

    January 14, 2008 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  10. greg

    Mr. Johnson is pathetic. If it wasn't bad enough when his company aired, "Hot Ghetto Mess" did he have to add insult to injury, by attacking Obama for the sins of the Clinton's? Since when is the responsibility of the victim, in this case not only Mr. Obama, but every man and woman, black, white and in between who revere and respect the legacies of Dr. King and Nelson Mandela, to apologize to their attacker? Mr. Johnson, do you wanted to be remembered as the man who attacked the first black man in the history of the United States to obtained its' highest office? Have you ever stopped to think what his candidacy means and will mean to men and women around the world for years to come? You should have.

    January 14, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. Matt

    America can't afford another Clinton, or on-the-job-training for Obama.

    January 14, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  12. John New York, NY

    The Clinton campaign is so sleazy. They are only going to hurt themselves and the Democratic Party in the long run.

    January 14, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  13. John G-- Brooklyn

    Cheryl- If someone telling the truth when it opposes their own self interest makes u question someone's authencity then u probaby need to look up the definition authenticy in a dictionary. Now saying u didnt inhale, and then saying u didnt do it again cause u didnt like it makes me question someones authenticy. If u didnt inhale how do u know if u didnt like it? but im obviously not as smart as u, I mean u are in the position to call the first black editor of the lharvard aw review stupid.

    January 14, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  14. I see Evil People

    Oh boy! There are some very ignorant people on the board. For those who say they won't vote for Hillary if she is the nominee or won't vote for Obama if he is the noiminee – I guess you won't complain when a repub is the president – and I hope it's Guiliani. Grow up ignorant masses!!

    January 14, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  15. Lisa,Corpus Christi, Tx.

    I am disgusted by the whole Clinton campaign. I am an Edward's supporter, but I am deeply disturbed by the Clinton's philosophy...the end justifies the means.

    Regardless of the fact that Obama never once brought up the issue of race, it is being used against him. The Clintons knew exactly what they were doing...it was calculated. And, they have divided Americans once again.

    The Bush administration has given more aid to Africa than any other administration, including the Clinton administration. Also, he appointed the first African-American secretary of state.

    Please remind again what "great thing" the Clintons have done for the African-American community again.

    I wonder how long it will take Johnson to cash in his favor, if Hillary is elected.

    January 14, 2008 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  16. Prayu

    All of Obama's plans for the economy, healthcare, environment and etc are laid out clearly on his website.

    That people think he is all talk and provides no substance or planning... try doing 5 minutes of research.

    His healthcare plan is better. People need to be able to afford Healthcare; not be forced to purchase it at its current cost. Here in Massachusetts, we've had mandated health care for a while now... just like what Hillary has proposed for the entire country. It's NOT working out too great.

    Just because Obama's speeches are elegant, and his messages exciting and inspirational, doesn't mean he does not have clear plans for our country's future. Just 5 minutes of research. Try it.

    January 14, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  17. Lynn

    To Truth Hurts - I took Bob Johnson's comments to go beyond what was said in Obama's book to imply that he was dealing drugs, not simply doing them himself.

    And really, if the comments by Johnson were so innocent, why did he later make the preposterous claim that he was referring to Obama's work as a politician in the inner city, and not to drug use? Sheesh.

    I would really have loved it if this campaign had been a debate of freaking ideas. But it's gone so far beyond that now that I don't see any way the Dems can recover to win the general election, no matter who the nominee is. I detest the way the Clintons are campaigning, and the Clinton supporters seem to have little problem with it despite the fact that it's the same type of dirty politics we've been dealing with for the past 8 (or however many) years. I never thought I would see people in the Democratic party standing up for the kind of tactics the Clintons are using. I honestly don't see how we can ever again claim to have the high ground on the Republicans. That would be a lie if Clinton prevails.

    January 14, 2008 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  18. Tanaka

    I have so much to say, but don’t want to bore you (the reader) to death... the devil is alive and on his job!
    THIS IS DEDICATED TO MY AMERICA.... (Black, White, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native American)

    I want to talk to the logical people reading my words right now, those that see right as (TRUE), and wrong as (FALSE)!!!

    What is sad about these modern day politicians is that all they do is create FEAR (broken boarders, terrorist attacks) and HATE (threats of recession, race wars, broken boarders), etc, etc.
    I must say, I have lost all RESPECT for the Clinton's tag team efforts on Mr. Obama, two on one is not fair and I have never seen this before, since I've been following politics.
    Don't get me wrong, it's no love fest for me with Obama, how ever I do respect him because I chose to listen to his perspective. This race is indicative of what's wrong with America today... it's a cancer that eats away at our country!!!

    To think in my lifetime, I would see a young MAN of bi-racial background (WHITE & AFRICAN), trying to lift up a nation of old cynical dreamer's and young hopeful believer's to believe that dreams mean nothing if you don't fight to achieve them. That mistakes in foolish youth should never condemn any man or woman, to not strive to better them selves in life. This is the best lesson I can share with my 10-year-old daughter.

    What hurts and saddens me the most is that this is just the beginning the Presidential race, yet the Clintons are illuminating not only the racial divisiveness of our nation but also the gender dislike that is prevalent in our country, and in the DEMOCRATIC party!!
    What happens when it is either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama, running against the Republican nominee, when do we get back to common goals, policies and issues that plague all of us?

    I'll close by saying, "When we tier down any child of god, we are all demisheded in his eyes."

    Thank for reading, my thought's.............................

    January 14, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  19. Eagleheart, Kentucky

    I've remained neutral for a while in this campaign, waiting to see how the candidates would run their respective campaigns. Honestly, I've been waiting for Obama to go negative for a while now. But surprisingly, despite intense pressure to do so, he hasn't. Its made me look into his background experiences and I've come away thinking that he is more than qualifed to be this country's cheif executive. In fact, I think he has more favorable experience than any of the candidates due to his work as a community organizer. In order to do that job, you have to care about people, and you have to be selfless. Note that he declined lucrative firm jobs to be a public servant. That shows me that Obama is principled and has the experience that counts when it comes to doing what's best for your country, not your career.

    Unlike other candidate who tout experience gained vicariously through their spouse. If I need heart surgery, I'm not going to the person who has 30 years of experience being a cardiologist's wife.

    Also, I think Obama simply has the HONSETY, AUTHENTICITY, and VISION to lead our country. His foreign policy judgment has been consistently sound, and if nothing else, he is willing to listen to sound advice – he has had numerous discussions with Collin Powell, who helped formulate his foreign policy platform. Also his stance on the economy is overwhelming sound. Even his healthcare policy is more in tune with America's vision for democracy – not forcing the American people to have health insurance through some government mandate, but rather making it cheaper so American's can afford it. That's why independents like myself like him. He's always forward thinking, yet in tune with the American people.

    I've concluded that some candidates understand politics. But Obama understands America.

    January 14, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  20. charlotte

    All this talk about Obamas' book. Why wasn't it Oprahs', book of the month.?

    January 14, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  21. TH3

    Black folk wake up! It seem's that some of you still beleave that white is allways right. Just because we had a president that liked big butts, bar-b-que, watermelon, and moved to Harlem to watch the big butts go by does not make him black. So get off that kick, white folk, is white folk, is white folk. Bill Clinton liked to hang out with the brothers, and that is cool with me, but what is Hilary's underline. Remember, she was a Goldwater supporter once, so if he had gotten in, there would be continued seperation of race in america.
    Go on you so called, Good House Negros that are suppose to be repersent us in those political positions, just because thay let you eat at the front room table, and thay quate a little MLK jr, as there crutch does not make her a good white folk for black folk or America.
    Black folk, stop speaking out against or own, this is our one chance to make a difference, and white folk are licking there chops, just to watching us divide more so among ourselves.
    Yes, I do support Obama. I fill that he is what America needs at this time. He is a American Melting Pot!

    January 14, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  22. Nelson, Colorado Springs Co

    This a very sorry for Mrs Clinton, I said long time ago it was just a matter of time before RACE card was played now a small hint of drugs uses. Mrs clinton really lost my vote. Clinton had to do something to slow Sen Obama down. This is old Amercia politics when you are behind use race. For as bob johnson he a sell out

    January 14, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  23. Karl, Charleston, SC

    Q: How can you tell when a Clinton is Lying?

    A: Their lips are moving.

    January 14, 2008 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  24. David, Encinitas, CA

    I'm not a smoker, but I could care less if anyone wanted to use pot. This is one issue where Ron Paul leads change. Legalizing such substances will absolutely result in reduced crime, less violence, lower costs for enforcement and punishment, and lower taxes. I'm not a libertarian or a Ron Paul supporter but I'm not blind either. The economics are very clear – take away the incentive and the market will respond (e.g. smuggling and violent crime). What is also pretty clear is the lack of harm this particular drug causes. If you look at the anti-drug material it's all "marijuana might cause this", or "researchers are currently testing it for that". There's no scientific evidence or peer reviewed studies showing that it is any more harmful than alcohol, rather just pseudoscienfic nonsense. I'm really surprised that people buy into it. This would be one easy win for less government spending, lower taxes and reduced crime!

    So what if Obama tried it? He was honest about it, and that's more than we get from most of our politicians.

    January 14, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  25. Gil - California

    This church needs to lose its tax exempt status since they are talking politics during service. In fact, any church that invites a candidate to speak needs to lose their tax exempt status!

    January 14, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
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