NBC confronts Hillary with 'slum lord' photo
On Friday morning's episode of the Today Show on NBC, host Matt Lauer discussed Monday night's testy debate between presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL). In particular, he focused on her allegation that Obama had represented Tony Rezko, the indicted Chicago businessman whom she referred to as a "slum lord."
Lauer then presented Clinton with a photo of Rezko posing between Sen. Clinton as first lady and her husband during his presidency. He asked if she remembered meeting Rezko.
Clinton said she did not, and parried, "I don't have a 17-year relationship with him."
The senator also argued that it wasn't unfair for her to bring up Rezko during the debate.
"I try not to attack first," Clinton said, "but I have to defend myself and I do have to counter punch."
Clinton then argued that the debate between the two candidates should focus on their position on important issues, and implied that she was the most viable candidate to defeat Senator John McCain if he was the Republican candidate.
"Let's focus on what we want to do for the country and most importantly focus on the great difference between us and the Republicans," she argued. "Senator McCain has said it would be fine with him if we were [in Iraq] 100 years. It's not fine with me."
A clip of the exchange is presented below.
This video is from NBC's Today Show, broadcast January 25, 2008.
Transcript via closed captions
:: It is perfectly legitimate to draw comparisons and contrasts. And I think both senator obama and I have made it clear that we do want to focus on what we each would do for our country. It has been obviously an incredibly intense campaign. I think it's cause for celebration that we have an african-american, a woman running for the highest position in our country, the toughest job in the world.
:: Right, but --
:: But I do want to make it clear that our campaigns have to stay focused on what, you know, the legitimate differences are, so we can give voters information that will enable them to make the right decision.
:: On monday night in south carolina, it didn't always stay focused on that, senator. I want to run a clip. This is where you were attacking senator obama in particular about his work connected to what was called the so-called slum lord in chicago, a guy named tony rezko. Take a look at the clip.
:: I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor rezko in his slum landlord business in inner city chicago.
:: That was monday night, senator. I know you don't have video, you can't see what i'm about to put up on the screen right now. But i'm going to put up a picture right now that we've received. This is a picture of you and your husband, bill clinton, posing with that same man, tony rezko. It's undated, i'm going to ro-tel you right now. We know it's him. We don't know when it was taken. We think it was during your husband's presidency. I'm curious, do you know anything about the picture? do you know when it was taken? do you remember meeting this man?
:: No, I don't. You know, I probably have taken hundreds of thousands of pictures. But of course, matt, you didn't show what preceded what I said, which was a direct attack, one of several that was leveled against me by senator obama.
:: I understand. It was a counter punch, I understand that.
:: It was a counter punch. I try not to attack first, but I have to defend myself and I do have to counter punch. No, I don't know the man. I wouldn't know him if he walked in the door. I don't have a 17-year relationship with him. But I think with a we ought to be looking at is how we go forward talking about the issues. I do think, however, that this is a campaign, it's a contest. It's something that is very important to each of us running, to our supporters, to those who believe in us. And I took a lot of incoming fire for many, many months and I was happy to absorb it because obviously I felt that that was part of my responsibility.
:: I guess what i'm saying, though --
:: As it gets toward the end of the campaign, you've got to set the record straight as I tried to.
:: Right. But does it make sense to use someone like this, tony rezko, against senator obama, when there's really no such thing as political purt anymore? I know you stand at events and stood as first lady along with your president and they fired 200 people by you a night --
:: A thousand people.
:: This man, he made a contribution to the dnc back in march of 2000. If there's no such thing as being able to fully vette who you come in contact with, is it appropriate to make this attack on your opponent?
:: I think you have to look at the facts. There's a big difference standing somewhere taking a picture with someone you don't know and haven't seen since and having a relationship that the newspapers in chic chicago have been exploring. Let's focus on what we want to do for the country and most importantly focus on the great difference between us and the republicans. I think you saw that again in their debate. They're sticking with the failed policies of president bush, more in iraq. Senator mccain has said it would be fine with him if we were there 100 years. It's not fine with me. Yes --
:: Real quickly, the latest poll --
:: So you have to -- right, you have to draw those comparisons and I think that's fair.