[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/17/art.clintonjohnson.ap.jpg caption="The Obama campaign took issue with Johnson’s comments."](CNN) - High-profile Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson is apologizing to Barack Obama for comments he made last week regarding the Illinois senator's acknowledged drug use as a teenager. Johnson said he sent a letter to Obama Thursday morning and said he was also reaching out by phone.
The founder and former chief executive officer of Black Entertainment Television created a stir and drew wide criticism after a Clinton campaign stop in Columbia, South Carolina January 13 when, in defending the Clintons' record on civil rights, he said, "to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood - and I wont say what he was doing, but he said it in the book - when they have been involved."
Many felt that Johnson was referring to Obama's drug use, which the senator wrote about in his memoirs.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton told CNN that "Obama accepts the apology. We're going to leave it at that."
In December, former New Hampshire Clinton campaign official Bill Shaheen resigned after he publicly suggested that Republicans would probably use Obama's past drug use against him.
Shortly after Johnson made the remarks, the Clinton campaign released a statement from him saying he had been “referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."
The Obama campaign did not accept his explanation. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said: "His tortured explanation doesn't hold up against his original statement. And it's troubling that neither the campaign nor Senator Clinton – who was there as the remark was made – is willing to condemn it as they did when another prominent supporter recently said a similar thing."
The billionaire Johnson is not a paid staffer, but a high-profile volunteer and wealthy fundraiser. When asked at a Vegas debate whether Johnson would have to go because of his comments, Hillary Clinton distanced herself from Johnson's remarks, saying, "Well, Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say, and what he thought he had said. And we accept him on his word on that."
But when asked whether Johnson's comments were out of bounds, Clinton acknowledged, "Yes they were. And he has said that."
Johnson told CNN Clinton did not ask him to apologize nor leave the campaign. Johnson said he quickly realized his comments were a mistake "made in haste in an attempt to be funny."
Johnson's apology comes as both the Clinton and Obama campaigns step up their efforts to win South Carolina's coveted African-American vote. Nearly 50 percent of the likely Democratic voters in the state are African-American. And both campaigns are rolling out high-profile black leaders and celebrities leading up to the January 26 primary.
–CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux
(Johnson’s letter after the jump)
Johnson's letter states:
I'm writing to apologize to you and your family personally for the un-called-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event. In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry. I hope that you will accept this apology. Good luck on the campaign trail.
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