POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton Defends, Then Criticizes, BET Founder's Controversial Remark

At the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, Senator Hillary Clinton said she took BET founder Robert Johnson at his word when he said he wasn't bringing up the specter of Barack Obama's youthful drug use while on the campaign trail. But she also said Johnson's words were "out of bounds," raising questions as to exactly where she stood on the controversial comments of her prominent supporter.

Asked why she had not distanced herself from Johnson following a reference he seemingly made to Obama's use of cocaine as a teenager -- Johnson claimed later he was referring to the senator's work as a community organizer -- Clinton came to her supporter's defense.

"Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say and what he thought he had said," said the New Yorker. "We accept him on his word on that."

Clinton then tried to position herself above the argument's fray, saying it was "too important for us to get diverted" by the issue and insisting that voters were not concerned with "somebody they never heard of."

But when moderator Tim Russert pressed her over whether Johnson's comments were out of bounds, Clinton replied, "Yes, they were. And he has said that."

Johnson has not publicly apologized for his remark. In an interview with the Washington Post, he actually defended his comments. And in the statement released immediately after the initial fracas, he declared:

"My comments today were referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."