Bill Clinton answers questions over suit

January 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Former President Bill Clinton did some verbal sparring with ABC7 political reporter Mark Matthews during Mr. Clinton's visit to Oakland. Mark has been closely following the battle going on between the Clinton and Obama camps over how the Nevada caucuses will play out this Saturday.

I asked the former President about a lawsuit filed in Nevada to try and ban so called at large caucuses sites set up at several of the casinos. Workers in the casinos or anywhere within a couple of miles of the strip would be able to go and caucus without having to drive back to their own neighborhoods.

The plan was voted on and agreed to months ago by both the state and national Democratic Party, but a week and a half ago Senator Barack Obama got the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union. The union that has a lot of its membership working in the casinos and two days later supporters of Hillary Clinton, along with the Teachers Union filed a lawsuit trying to block those casino caucuses from taking place.

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "Mr. President about Nevada, could the Clinton campaign take a stronger position against that lawsuit to get away from the caucus sites on the strip?"

The question came after the Clinton campaign said it isn't taking a position on the lawsuit to ban caucus sites, even though it means that tens of thousand of workers along the strip would be unable to caucus this Saturday.

Bill Clinton: "You asked the question in an accusatory manner so I will ask you back -- do you believe that if the Democrats had understood that they had agreed to give everybody who worked in a casino a vote worth five times as much as people who voted in their own precinct? Did you know that? Their votes will be counted five times more powerfully in terms of delegates to the State Convention and delegates to the National Convention. What happened is nobody understood until they uncovered it. And now they are saying 'ohh they don't want us to vote.'"

Well what Clinton said about the five to one vote advantage is possible, but not very likely.

The rules say the casino caucus voters will be tallied based on turnout. And if there is a very low turnout in the casino sites and a very big turn out in the rural areas of the Nevada then its possible the casino votes would be more powerful vote for vote. But that same rule applies in lots of states.

In parceling out delegates, the parties routinely give more weight to votes in rural areas as a way to get the candidates to go out and campaign in those rural areas. In any case the casino caucuses would nominate no more than 6 percent of the total delegates -- no matter what the turnout. Not five times more than anyone else and the timing of the lawsuit two days after the Culinary Union endorsement of Barack Obama -- lead's some to suspect that was the motive.

Matthews: "The timing of the lawsuit with the endorsement does look to some people like -- now that they understand the endorsement they want to change the rules."

Clinton: "Your position is that it should be easier for them to vote then for anyone else who works in the afternoon? Your position is their vote should count five times as much? Is that right?"

Matthews: "I'm just saying those are the rules that were agreed to in March. Aren't those same people who are bringing the lawsuit -- "

Clinton: "Well then the votes rigged that way, they found that out later."

I talked with ABC's political correspondent Jake Tapper and ABC network politics expert Teddy Davis. They said ABC knew the rules. They were set out months ago. They said that the Clinton's new the rules and the Clinton supporters new the rules. But after Barack Obama's endorsement, some of the same people who voted for the casino caucuses and who are supporters of Hillary Clinton walked into court and filed a lawsuit to try and block causes. The Clinton campaign has said it has no part in the lawsuit, but as you can see they're not entirely neutral on the topic.

More of this exchange is available via raw video on our website by clicking here.

To read more about Mark Matthews' encounter with Bill Clinton in Oakland, click on The Back Story.