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Donald Trump offered a confusing mashup of unsavory accusations during Sunday night's presidential debate as he lumped allegations against Bill Clinton with a claim about Hillary Clinton's attitude when she discussed her defense of a man accused of raping a child in 1975.
Trump, asked about his offensive comments while taping a segment of Access Hollywood more than a decade ago, said, "If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action. His was what he's done to women. There's never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women. So you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women."
Trump continued: "Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them here tonight. One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped at 12. Her client she represented got him off, and she's seen laughing on two separate occasions, laughing at the girl who was raped. Kathy Shelton, that young woman is here with us tonight."
The alleged rape of a 12-year-old had nothing to do with Bill Clinton. Trump was suddenly, and without explanation, shifting gears to Hillary Clinton's successful defense of the alleged rapist after she was reluctantly assigned to the case.
That's the part of Trump's claim we'll fact-check here.
At the time, Clinton, 27, was working at a University of Arkansas legal aid clinic. The accused man was indigent and specifically asked for a woman to represent him.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to unlawful fondling of a minor, receiving a year in jail and four years' probation.
When we asked the Trump campaign about the allegations, a spokesman referred us to a July 15, 2014, article in the conservative Washington Free Beacon, which uncovered audio recordings of Clinton, although it's not clear when the recordings were made. The Beacon says they date from 1983 to 1987.
In the tapes, she calls it a "terrible case" and "a fascinating case," for reasons that will become clear.
The article notes that she can be heard laughing at several points on the tape, but it doesn't say she was laughing at the victim, as Trump claims.
She is "discussing the crime lab’s accidental destruction of DNA evidence that tied (the accused man, Thomas Alfred) Taylor to the crime," destruction that led the prosecution to seek a plea deal on a lesser charge, according to the article. (For the record, DNA testing as we know it was years away, but labs did determine blood type in criminal cases in that era.)
"I plea bargained it down because it turned out they didn't have any evidence," Clinton says. In the tape, available on YouTube, Clinton says of the case, "It's sad."
"But you know what was sad about it was that the prosecutor had evidence," Clinton says.
However, she recounts that the crime lab had taken a key piece of evidence — the accused man's underpants, which had blood on it — neatly cut out a piece, and then threw that piece away once testing was done, eliminating the ability to do independent testing. In this case, it's the interviewer, Arkansas journalist Roy Reed, who can be heard laughing, not Clinton.
On the tape, in which Reed laughs a few more times at her story, Clinton can be heard chortling when she reports that the prosecutor didn't want her to see the underwear before it was presented at trial. Defense attorneys have the right to see all the evidence first.
And when the judge is considering the plea deal, Clinton recounts that the judge wanted her to leave the room while he talked to the accused man. Clinton says she told the judge, "Judge, I can't leave the room. I'm his lawyer." The judge reportedly responded, "I know, but I don't want to talk about this in front of you." Again, Reed can be heard laughing after saying, "Oh God. Really?" It's not clear if Clinton is laughing as well.
At another point, Clinton says of the accused man, "I had him take a polygraph, which he passed — which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs." She and the reporter laugh.
And she laughs when she recalls telling the prosecution that she was prepared to bring in a top expert witness to testify "to prevent this miscarriage of justice." The reporter laughs as well.
It should be noted that it's clear from the record that Clinton aggressively defended the man and did file motions questioning the victim's credibility. But there is no evidence, including this audio tape, that Clinton or Reed were laughing at the victim.
Trump said after Clinton helped a man accused of raping a 12-year-old, "she's seen laughing on two separate occasions, laughing at the girl who was raped."
Trump is referring to an audio tape in which she does respond with amusement at her recollections of the oddities of the case, which involve the prosecution and the judge.
At no point does she laugh at the victim.
We rate his claim False.
CORRECTION, Oct. 18, 2016: This story was amended to note that the blood test referenced in the Washington Free Beacon story could not have been a true DNA match test. That technology was not available in 1975.
Email, Steven Cheung, Donald Trump campaign, Oct. 9, 2016
Emails, Josh Schwerin, Hillary Clinton campaign, Oct. 9, 2016
DonaldJTrump.com, "Hillary Attacks Credibility of 12-Year-Old Rape Victim, Laughs," Oct. 9, 2016
The Washington Free Beacon, "The Hillary Tapes," June 15, 2014
YouTube, "The Hillary Clinton Tapes," Washington Free Beacon channel, June 15, 2014
The Washington Post, "Did Clinton laugh about a rapist's light sentence and attack sexual harassment victims?" May 19, 2016 and "Everything that was said at the second Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton debate, highlighted," Oct. 9, 2016
PolitiFact, "Did Hillary Clinton ask to be 'relieved' from representing an accused rapist in 1970s?" July 17, 2014
Newsday, "Election 2008: For Young Clinton, a Case of Clashing Ideals," Feb. 24, 2008
Snopes, "Hillary Clinton Freed Child Rapist," Aug. 13, 2016
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