Fact Check

Hillary Clinton Referenced RFK Assassination as Reason to Continue 2008 Campaign

A Hillary Clinton quote from 2008 about the assassination of RFK resurfaced in 2016, but Clinton didn't escape criticism over the comment at the time she made it.

Published Aug 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton cited Robert F. Kennedy's June 1968 assassination as a reason to remain in the presidential race against Barack Obama in 2008.

On 9 August 2016 GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump was widely criticized for a comment he made about Hillary Clinton that was widely interpreted as an incitement to violence against his presidential rival:

Donald J. Trump appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who favor stricter gun control measures.

Repeating his contention that Mrs. Clinton wanted to abolish the right to bear arms, Mr. Trump warned at a rally that it would be “a horrible day” if Mrs. Clinton were elected and got to appoint a tiebreaking Supreme Court justice.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd began to boo. He quickly added: “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Oblique as it was, Mr. Trump’s remark quickly elicited a wave of condemnation from Democrats, gun control advocates and others, who accused him of suggesting violence against Mrs. Clinton or liberal jurists.

That controversy prompted counter-claims that Hillary Clinton herself had once made similar comments in 2008 by referencing assassinated 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in a discussion about her race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama. Although many people following the 2016 presidential race didn't know or recall whether any such thing had occurred, the comment attributed to Clinton remains widely verifiable online in archived 2008 campaign news.

The remark in question was originally made to the editorial board of a newspaper in May 2008 in response to questions about why Clinton remained in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination seemingly past the point of having any real chance of winning it:

Hillary Clinton cited the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign to explain why she was remaining in the race despite long odds.

"We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," Clinton told the editorial board of a South Dakota newspaper. " I don't understand it," Clinton added, alluding to the calls for her to quit.

Clinton made the statement after pointing out that her husband didn't lock up the nomination until June of 1992, trying to point out that, by past history, it's not late in the campaign.

But Barack Obama received Secret Service protection one year ago, the earliest ever in presidential history, after reports of threats.

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement: “Sen. Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign."

The 2016 resurrection of that remark was often accompanied by suggestions that Clinton had "skated by" with little criticism for her "insensitive" and "heartless" comment, while Donald Trump was widely pilloried for his "ominous" aside. That wasn't an accurate assessment, however, as the New York Times reported at the time:

The speed at which the remarks were transmitted and reacted to illustrated the new reality candidates are grappling with in this year’s campaign, in which Mr. Obama’s own remarks about “bitter” small-town voters ricocheted around the Internet.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were initially reported online by The New York Post, whose reporters were not traveling with the Clinton campaign but were instead watching a live video feed of the meeting with newspaper editors. Its report quickly jumped to the Drudge Report, then whipped around the Internet and on television, with outraged comments piling up on Web sites.

Also among the critics of Clinton's comments at the time was angry former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann:

Moreover, while Donald Trump has so far offered no apology for his remark, Hillary Clinton promptly did so back in 2008:

Earlier today I was discussing the Democratic primary history and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns that both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged in California in June 1992 and 1968 and I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June. That’s a historic fact. The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that, whatsoever. My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to, and I’m honored to hold Senator Kennedy’s seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family.”

The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Sen. Kennedy and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive," she said.


Luhby, Tami and Jim Sciutto.   "Secret Service Spoke to Trump Campaign About 2nd Amendment Comment."     CNN.   10 August 2016.

Martin, Jonathan.   "Hillary Cites RFK Assassination in Explaining Why She's Still in Race."     Politico.   23 May 2008.

Seelye, Katharine Q.   "Clinton Remark on Kennedy’s Killing Stirs Uproar."     The New York Times.   24 May 2008.

Seelye, Katharine Q.   "Clinton Remark on Kennedy's Killing Stirs Uproar."     The New York Times.   24 May 2008.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.