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. Media Misinformation !

    Reporting news without context. Context isn't just important, it's everything — especially in these days of insta-pickup by blogs and online news sites, where just a snippet of text is enough to launch a million clicks.

    Bill Clinton's quote, was part of a larger comment on Obama's representation of his Iraq war position not his campaign or its message!

    The conflagration over Bill Clinton's "Fairytale" comment, made on January 7th at Dartmouth College, before the New Hampshire primary, explodes over the past few days as an issue of race. Yes, race — that scary third rail of politics around which everyone tiptoes — suddenly an issue around a comment made by a guy once known as "America's First Black President


    New York Times, Jan. 11th: "[Former President Clinton] described Mr. Obama's campaign narrative as a fairy tale."

    The Politico, Jan 11th: "...Bill Clinton dismissing Sen. Barack Obama's image in the media as a 'fairy tale'"

    BreitbartTV, Jan. 8th, which hosted the full clip yet chose to headline it in the most inflammatory (and inaccurate) way possible: "Bill Clinton Fumes About Obama: 'Biggest Fairy Tale I've Ever Seen'"

    Same NYT article, quoting someone else incorrectly framing the comment: "[Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC)] saw the remark as a slap at the image of a black candidate running on a theme of unity and optimism. "To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us."

    Maureen Dowd, NYT, Jan 9th: "Bill churlishly dismissed the Obama phenom as 'the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.'"

    Donna Brazile on CNN, Jan. 8th: "For him to go after Obama, using a fairy tale, calling him as he did last week. It's an insult. And I will tell you, as an African-American, I find his tone and his words to be very depressing."

    I've got a feeling CNN won't post this either. (ARgh!)

    January 14, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  2. Mark

    Bill is doing Hillary no favours by campaigning. He should observe the rule that ex-Presidents stay above the fray; even if it is his wife who is fighting for her political life. If he keeps on, he'll simply reinforce the message that the choice is between the ancien regime and revolution. All Obama has to do is keep out of it, or comment wryly that it is sad when some are so determined to live in the past.

    January 14, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  3. Herb, Pittsburgh, PA

    Thanks for reminding me, Dee. Yes, you've mentioned plenty of reasons why Bill, er, Hillary Clinton shouldn't be President.

    January 14, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  4. Elisabeth, Burlington, VT

    If someone wants to bring up Obama's past drug use as a concern for his electibility, that's fair. But do it out in the open. Don't make some half-veiled reference to it and then claim you were talking about his "community service". I don't know whether the Clinton campaign had any idea what Robert Johnson was going to say but that the campaign hasn't come out against it speaks volumes.

    Obama would do well to remain unresponsive to these types of comments. They just make the Clinton campaign look desperate and like the politics of old that we are tired of.

    I'm not looking forward to another four years of a republican in the White House but, right now, I'd have to look at McCain over Clinton. At least HE stands by what he says and you can trust him.

    January 14, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. Black Man, Philly PA

    Bob Johnson: you are an idiot; as a matter of fact, you should place a big "L" on your forehead, because you are a LOSER! You are a sellout as well.

    January 14, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. Blue in a Red State - Phoenix, Arizona

    ARE THEY KIDDING? Do they think we're really this naive? At least Obama is honest about his past. Which is more that we can say about the Clintons.

    They're trying with all of their might to make it look like "more of the same" is going to beat the Republican party in November. I disagree. We need a fresh start. Obama is that fresh start. Bill and Hill know that they can't provide that, so they're going to do everything they can in order to cut him down. Yet, Obama and Edwards are still running positive, issue based campaigns. Not pretending to cry in order to garner votes.

    Hang it up Hill!

    Obama – Fired up and ready to go!

    January 14, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  7. Jr., California

    Just remember that Bob Johnson doesn't speak for all African Americans.

    January 14, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. Daniel Jones

    I am an African American living in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1980 I moved to Europe not knowing that my stay would last 27 years. Today, I hold the US and Swiss citizenship which I am very proud of. During the last 27 years, I have had the opportunity to observe America from a distance. There were times when I was proud and there were times when I wasn’t so proud of some of the decisions that America made. I don’t belong to the democratic or republican party. The presidential elections in America have moved me to take an even closer look at what is really happening in America. And I must admit that this is one of those times that I am not so proud of some of the things that are happening in America. However, I am very proud of the fact that the American people as a whole have decided that they want change i.e. want to move on beyond the days of the civil rights movement and a better life in America. This doesn’t mean that one has to forget some of the most difficult times in America’s history. And I don’t think that the American people will forget those times and those that sacrificed their lives for a better America. It is right to honor them with the highest respect. But it is wrong to use the America’s legacy to keep a people intact. I am very disappointed to see some of those great men that fought so hard for civil rights in America stripe Barack Obama down to his knees. If this was a white person doing this to him the African American community would be at there doorsteps in a flash. I am not a politician and don’t really know how to interpret the attacks inflicted upon Barack Obama that are coming from some of the most affluent African American leaders and African American businessmen. Maybe it is an act of jealously and maybe not. We all know that politics are never played fairly. However to inflict upon ones opponent such divisive personal attacks is not acceptable. What I have witnessed over the last several months and what my heart tells me, I think that Barack Obama is right for America and would make an excellent president. So what is so bad about him becoming president of America! Let the American people decide for who is the right candidate, without promoting division amongst the American people, to lead them in the future. I am very proud of the leaders, black and white, that have fought for a better America. I am especially proud of the people of Iowa, New Hampshire and the American people for the desire to want to transform America’s politics. The American people should siege the chance to make America a better place to live. This should always be an ongoing process in any society. And I reach out to the African American leaders to ask them with respect and kindness to refrain from the use of divisive politics. It is alright to inform the American people of the credentials of a candidate, but it is not alright to divide a people. Look around the world to see what divisive politics have done to our world today. Let us not forget the dream Martin Luther King had for America and the rest of the world. This was not only for people of color, but for all people.
    Daniel Jones

    January 14, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Right Wing

    What about Bill's drug use? The Clinton Crime family is throwing stones again. Someone needs to ask the press about a Sudan bombing in the 90s that Bill authorized which destroyed a Pharmacutical plant responsible that has cost thousands of lives in Sudan if the Clinton Crime family wants to talk about drugs.

    January 14, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  10. Oscar, Rio Vista, CA

    The Hilary supporters are so funny. All of you are trying to persuade the voters to go with Hilary because the Republicans will use Obama's drug use. Geez!! I wonder what they will use if Hil gets the nominee!! Perhaps Bill could make a list for us seeing as making lists seems to be his specialty.

    January 14, 2008 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  11. VP

    For those of you who stated that Obama has not pulled out the race card. Just what do you think this is that he is doing now by twisting Hillary's words around. Think about it. He knows she's has overtaken him to become the party's nominee so now each and every chance he gets to bring her down, whether true or false, he will take a cheap shot at her. Pathetic. Hillary 2008.

    January 14, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  12. Roy

    Karl Rove is alive and well and working for Hillary Clinton.

    January 14, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  13. Just wondering

    I'm not black but I do have a question about the idea of electing the first black president. I'm sure people will scream at me but whether you like it or not he will be considered a representative of the black community. Is it a good idea to have the first black president be someone who has admitted to using cocaine? If the founder of BET, who I figure thinks a lot about the future of the black communtiy, has a problem with this drug history, couldn't it represent a bigger problem for him? Cocaine is a big deal – and it's not a dirty trick for anyone to discuss it when we are considering electing someone to the highest office we have in our country.

    January 14, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  14. Duncan

    Ellie, Ca,

    Don't be a foolish woman thinking and voting with your emotions. You evaluate people by the people they surround themselves with and their actions. She didn't have to make the comment. She did need to confront Bob Johnson on such a childish remark. Obama's drug use (as a teenager – same as Bush Jr.) was in the public domain for years and he admitted this without any political pressure. The information is out there if you do a little research. Grow up and focus on issues and not the same ole washington nonsense seen in the Clinton camp.

    January 14, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  15. Bob - Florida, RFO

    I would have never thought that the Democratic Primaries would go this way!

    The Clinton Camp and their segregates have done an excellent job of undermining the integrity of the Democratic Party Primary process.

    Bob Johnson, BET – You are sad little man! Your implied little “quirp” is most disgusting and then your attempt to lie about it even worse!

    Barack's drug use was documented in his book. Nothing was hidden; it was fully visible to the public! Team Obama did not raise the issue of race, why would they??

    What is it that threatens the established Oligarchy about outside candidates?

    "I have a great respect for Barack Obama. I think he's a person who is trying to do in many ways what I hope I'm trying to do and that is to say let's quit what I call 'horizontal politics.' Everything in this country is not left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. I think the country is looking for somebody who is vertical, who is thinking, 'Let's take America up and not down,' and people will forgive you for being left or right if you go up." Guess Who??

    OBAMA '08

    "I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see."

    January 14, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  16. David, Dallas Tx

    Sure, let's play pretend, and take Bob Johnson's explanation at face value.

    Could you please explain for us, Bob, exactly why it's so deplorable for someone to be a community organizer? Shouldn't we TRY to help our disadvantaged neighbors?

    And, Mrs. Clinton, could you please explain how Bob's public slamming of Barack's days as a community organizer are okay, if you're so anti-negative campaigning?

    You see, it doesn't matter WHY Bob was slamming Barack; the fact is that Bob did it and you're okay with that. Even in a pretend world your campaign is negative.

    January 14, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  17. Bob - Florida, RFO

    Dbl Standards January 14, 2008 10:57 am ET

    Did we just discover something new???? It's not about the drugs!!!!!!!

    This is divisive politics at its worse!

    ABC '08

    January 14, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. Duncan

    Cheryl January 14, 2008 9:26 am ET

    "I guess when your not smart enough to keep your mouth shut in a book about your youth, and then you run for office, this makes people question your authenticity. American has woken up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO HILLARY."

    Here is what the word means,
    Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins.

    Wow, Obama was truthful. Go figure. And you ,a grown woman, don't know the meaning of authenticity. Go figure. Because of people like you voting recklessly, we keep getting the same crap in Washington. Read a book, perhaps Obama's and get authenticity from there, not Bob Johnson.

    January 14, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. Columbus

    I can't help but notice that some of you just can't get our President Bush off your minds. Even though this doesn't even concern him, you still are obsessed with him. I know it sucks that he can't run for President again as we all would love, but try to move on and keep your mudslinging between your two inexperienced candidates please. To say Hillary is anything like President Bush, is is an insult to all of us Republicans!

    January 14, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  20. cmax

    i am SO glad Bob Johnson does not speak fir all african americans. I hope the clintons NOW understand that when Andrew Young or "Bob Johnson" speaks, we don't ALL fall in lne

    January 14, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  21. masgap

    It's simple Obama is a very good speaker but this is all he is. A talker and not a doer American needs real change with real experience and that is Hillary Clinton!!!!!!!!

    January 14, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  22. get truth guy

    Obama is not ONLY a pure pilitician, talker than action taker, BUT aslo is a filp-floper who was a drug addited and racial biased nation divider, is much worse than Clintons.

    January 14, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  23. Aaron, Iraq

    Let me start by saying I am neither black nor a woman. I am a fairly well-off member of the military currently serving as an advisor in Iraq.

    I am so disheartened by this entire process. I have seen many Clinton supporters act like the mudslinging is somehow a good thing - that if Obama can't take it now, he sure won't be able to take it from the republicans in a general election. They don't understand that many of us who support Obama support him because we don't want politics to be about mudslinging. The entire point is about elevating the process above where the Bushes and the Reagans and the Gingriches and the Roves and sadly even the Clintons have taken it. That is an issue by itself. It is a HUGE issue. There is a reason so many first time voters are voting for Obama. For so long, politicians have been so calculating, insincere, and corrupt - it has turned off everyonne but the most diehard and blinded idealogues to the entire political process. Obama feels different and acts different and it is an ISSUE. Clinton supporters don't seem to understand this.

    And frankly, Clinton does not have much more experience than Obama, nor has she elaborated more on the issues. She has certainly attacked a lot more. If that is what a voter is into - attacking and dividing, then by all they should vote for Clinton. Hillary feels like more of the same - and that is not a good thing.

    January 14, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  24. Ripper

    It's refreshing to see the Dem's imploding during the primaries. Clinton is showing her true colors, and Obama will soon have the veneer stripped from him and we all will see what he truley is: an unqualified senator, with a questionable past and even more questionable agenda.

    This election is the Repub's to lose.

    January 14, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  25. lcb

    How naive can some people be...Welcome to politics. If by any way you are insulted, you have the Obama camp to thank for bringing up the race card every single day. If he stops comparing himself to JFK and MLK, then he will not be challenged; but you can not expect to say something so despicable and not think Americans would be insulted. Heck, I am very insulted! As for Johnson's comments, well Obama was doing drugs, he wrote about it in his book which he got handsomely paid for. What's the problem? Who told this man that politics was a cake walk? I summit he has been ill-advice.

    January 14, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
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