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Hillary Clinton in 2001: We were 'dead broke'

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 9:40 PM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The former secretary of state reportedly has made $5 million in speaking fees since leaving government
  • The issue came up in an interview with ABC
  • Mrs. Clinton has become a staple on the paid speaking circuit as has former President Bill Clinton
  • NEW: Hillary Clinton says Benghazi would be more, not less, of a reason to run in 2016

(CNN) -- The Clintons left the White House more than a dozen years ago "dead broke" and in debt, according to Hillary Clinton, who defended the hefty speaking fees she commands since stepping down as secretary of state last year.

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer that aired on Monday, the former secretary of state also said that the deadly 2012 terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, would give her "more of a reason to run" for president again than a rationale for not doing so.

The interview comes just as Clinton's new book, "Hard Choices," about her years as Barack Obama's first secretary of state hits bookstores on Tuesday. It's the latest look at her storied career in the global spotlight as first lady, U.S. senator, presidential candidate and top diplomat.

She made headlines in a clip of the interview that aired on "Good Morning America" in which she defended her hefty speaking fees, noting that she knew what it was like to experience tough financial circumstances in the winter of 2001.

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She said her family "came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt," adding later that her family had "no money" at that time and "struggled to piece together the resources" for mortgages and her daughter Chelsea's college education.

"You know, it was not easy," she said.

The Clintons departed the White House in debt due to enormous legal fees. By the end of 2000, their debt totaled somewhere between $2.28 million to $10.6 million.

But former presidents and first ladies have the ability to make a lot of money, and the Clintons were no exception and have done so. Their assets grew quickly.

Bill Clinton made more than $9.2 million in speaking fees in 2001 and more than $9.5 million in 2002.

They paid off their legal fees by 2004.

A CNN analysis of the family's financial records in early 2013 showed that Bill Clinton had earned $106 million from paid speeches since leaving the presidency behind. In 2012 alone, he earned $17 million in fees.

Although she regularly speaks for free at certain events, Mother Jones reported earlier this year that Clinton made roughly $5 million on the speaking circuit since stepping down as America's top diplomat. Clinton did not dispute the figure when Sawyer asked about it.

Though not as profitable as her husband - who has made as much as $750,000 in one speech - Hillary Clinton reportedly commands $200,000 per speech.

The two also have received hefty advances for their books.

Hillary Clinton said the former first family eventually turned around their finances, noting that her husband has "worked really hard and it has been amazing to me."

She noted that they had to pay off debts, get their houses arranged and "take care of family members."

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Clinton has become a staple on the paid speaking circuit. She has appeared before an array of audiences, including trade associations, business groups and college students.

Asked if she thought Americans could understand making "five times the median income in this country for one speech," Clinton said she "thought making speeches for money was a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company as so many people who leave public life do."

American Rising, the pro-Republican opposition research shop that along with the Republican National Committee, takes the lead in criticizing Clinton, was quick to ping her over her comments to ABC, saying they "reveal someone who is extremely out of touch with financial reality facing Americans."

On its website, America Rising said the two homes the Clintons purchased after leaving the White House in Chappaqua, New York, and Washington cost around $4.5 million combined.

On Benghazi, Republicans contend that the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four Americans illustrates Obama administration foreign policy failures.

Democrats say ongoing Republican-led scrutiny is political and designed to undercut any potential Clinton candidacy.

"I view this as really apart from - even a diversion from - the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world," Clinton said, noting that the United States should be "in the majors" on world affairs.

Clinton has taken responsibility for the attack in the past and she did so again in the clip released by ABC. But in this interview, Clinton defended herself by saying she "was not making security decisions" for the Benghazi compound.

"Well, I certainly would give anything on earth if this had not happened," Clinton said. "And I certainly would wish that we had made some of the changes that came to our attention to make as a result of the investigation. But I also am clear in my own mind that we had a system and that system, of course, ended with me."

CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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