Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who holds Hillary Clinton’s former seat, said Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after his inappropriate relationship with an intern came to light nearly 20 years ago.
Asked directly if she believed Clinton should have stepped down at the time, Gillibrand took a long pause and said, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.”
But she also appeared to signal that what is currently considered a fireable offense may have been more often overlooked during the Clinton era.
“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” Gillibrand said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.”
A spokesman later said Gillibrand was trying to underscore that Clinton’s actions, had they happened in the current era, should have compelled him to resign.
Still, it was a remarkable statement from a senator who enthusiastically backed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid last year but has been deeply involved in legislative efforts to curb sexual abuse and harassment in the military and on college campuses.
Gillibrand, who has longstanding ties to the Clintons, is the highest-profile elected Democratic official to say Bill Clinton should have stepped down as a result of his affair.
Gillibrand’s remarks came during an interview for a New York Times podcast, “The New Washington,” which will air Saturday. They came hours after Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized for groping and kissing a radio host without her consent during a USO tour in 2006, two years before he was elected. Franken is now facing demands for an ethics investigation into his conduct.
“It’s very disturbing,” Gillibrand said of Franken. “I was very disappointed. But it’s important that survivors are coming out and speaking truth to power and telling their stories.”
Earlier, she said she would give all the donations her campaign had received from Franken’s political action committee to Protect Our Defenders, which helps those assaulted in the military. She also introduced the “Me Too Congress Act” on Thursday to address yearslong and rampant sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill.
Gillibrand began a new push this week for legislation to authorize military prosecutors, rather than commanders, to decide which sexual assault cases should be brought to court, with the aim of encouraging more people to report crimes without fear of retaliation.
She was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and has spent countless hours raising money for Democratic women who run for office, citing Clinton as a role model.
“In my adult life, politically, no one has inspired me to get off the sidelines and truly make a difference more than Hillary Clinton has,” Gillibrand said last year in an essay on why she was supporting Clinton.
Gillibrand has also noted Bill Clinton’s support for her own run for office. “I was lucky enough to receive guidance and mentorship from Hillary during that run, and was truly honored that President Bill Clinton campaigned for me in my first run for Congress in 2006,” she wrote in the same essay.
Her criticism of the former president’s affair with Monica S. Lewinsky between 1995 and 1997 comes as the nation grapples with charges of sexual misconduct and harassment by celebrities, politicians and journalists that have often involved men exerting their professional power over younger women.
Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, and lawmakers have testified that sexual harassers remain in their ranks. The rise of sexual harassment complaints across a broad array of fields has also caused a re-examination of Bill Clinton’s role.
“What the ‘Me Too’ movement has done is transform this debate,” Gillibrand said. “I think because, when you have hundreds of thousands of people coming out every day about all industries saying, ‘This is what happened to me,’ I think a lot of people have finally realized, ‘Wow, I didn’t quite realize this.'”
She added: “We never had a conversation this important. It couldn’t come too soon.”