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Donald Trump Relitigates The '90s To Attack Hillary Clinton


Is it 2016 or 1996 in presidential politics? The 1990s have been coming into the current campaign like reruns of "Friends." Donald Trump has called Hillary Clinton an enabler of Bill Clinton's relations with women and has run an Instagram of video with women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. And Trump has said there was something fishy about the death in 1993 of Vince Foster, the White House deputy counsel and an Arkansas friend of the Clintons.

An investigation by the U.S. Park Police and the FBI found that Mr. Foster committed suicide. We turn now to Joe Klein. He's a political columnist for Time magazine and, of course, author of "Primary Colors," the 1996 bestseller that featured a charming, philandering rogue of a southern governor and his proud, smart and oft humiliated wife - wonder what inspired that. Is Bill Clinton's personal history a legitimate campaign issue?

JOE KLEIN: No, I don't think so. I mean, we've been through this time and time and time and time again. And there's so many legitimate campaign issues out there. I think that it's kind of a way for Donald Trump to steal a new cycle, as they say these days. I do think that there's an interesting debate going on within the Democratic Party about Bill Clinton's substance of record in the '90s. But that's a different thing.

SIMON: Tactically, do you see it as a wise campaign issue on Trump's part?

KLEIN: I think people are going to get tired of it. You know, this sort of stuff worked in the Republican primaries. I think that people are entertained by his antics. It remains to be seen whether people are going to vote on him. I mean, you have to understand that we've never seen a candidate like Donald Trump before.

You know, he cut his teeth in reality TV - in the false intimacy and outrage of reality TV - and that's something that's become very familiar to the American people. You know, it goes down easy but things change in the fall when people have to actually walk into a voting booth and make a decision.

SIMON: You wrote a novel that was hardly blind to some of the issues that might come along with the history of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Are there some legitimate questions to be raised, maybe about their relations with Wall Street, the Clinton Foundation, that sort of thing?

KLEIN: Well, I think there is the appearance of impropriety. You know, when she's asked why did you give speeches to Goldman Sachs for $250,000 or $225,000 when you knew you were going to run for president and she says something like, well, I wasn't sure I was going to run for president, everybody guffaws, right? I mean, it just seems phony.

But there's also the reality of the very high priced speeches that he gave while she was secretary of state, you know, in foreign countries, for foreign leaders. And they probably never got anything from the secretary of state as a result of that. But the appearance of impropriety is something that every politician has to be careful about.

SIMON: And what about Vince Foster's death as an issue? We'll state again, there were extensive investigations and all they found was a tragic human story about a man at the end of his rope.

KLEIN: To raise it now is disgraceful. You know, we can't mince words about it. There really was nothing there. And the only reason why Donald Trump would be raising it would be not to talk about other things that are more important, things he may not know so much about.

SIMON: Yeah. I do have to ask this. At the same time, don't the Clintons play rough too? There are a number of women who really do feel that they were treated badly by Bill Clinton in a personal and sometimes intimate way. And they felt that the Clintons tried to smear them.

KLEIN: Obviously it is disgraceful to take advantage of an intern or an employee. And he did that. And it was wildly foolish and disgusting. But I wonder, you know - there's a problem that Clinton has and it's this - these things are going to come up. They may even come up in the debates in the fall. What is she going to respond to it? It would be nice if she responded, hell yeah, that's why he spent six months on the couch.

But I don't know that that's something that she has in her. And it's certainly an incredibly sensitive area for Hillary Clinton. And it may be what constricts her in a lot of other ways as a candidate as well.

KLEIN: Joe Klein, he writes a column for Time and, of course, the author of "Primary Colors." Thanks so much for being with us.

KLEIN: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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