Clinton defends her tenure at State Department, pushes back on Benghazi critics
On the subject of Monica Lewinsky, Clinton says she has "moved on"
She says the Clintons were broke when they left the White House in 2001
She will decide on presidential run "when it feels right for me to decide"
Hillary Clinton sought to clarify her “dead broke” comment that generated a critical reaction in social media and energized her detractors, saying simply that she and her husband have known periods in their lives when they struggled financially to pay off debt.
In another interview as her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” hit bookstores on Tuesday, Clinton found herself again talking about her immediate post White House years when the former first family owed millions to lawyers and had nothing in the bank as they transitioned to a new life.
In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that aired on Monday, Mrs. Clinton said she and former President Bill Clinton were “dead broke” and “struggled to piece together the resources” for mortgages in pricey Washington and the New York suburbs and their daughter Chelsea’s tuition at prestigious Stanford University.
Clinton made the comments in defense of the hefty speaking fees she now commands as she weighs a presidential bid.
Clinton told Robin Roberts on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she understood the critical reaction to her comments, but remembers that they were “something like $12 million in debt” in the winter of 2001.
“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today. It is an issue that I have worked on and cared about my entire adult life,” said Clinton, who later noted that getting out of post-White House debt “was something that we really had to work hard” to accomplish.
She also said that she and Bill Clinton had to support themselves at a young age and pay for college, too.
“We understand what that struggle was because we had student debts, both of us, we had to pay off, we had to work,” Clinton said. “We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans, but we also have gone through some of the same challenges as many people have.”
The Clintons righted their financial circumstances reasonably quickly by capitalizing on the expected post-presidential windfall of book deals and speaking fees.
The new book
“Hard Choices” is about Clinton’s years as President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state, which she stepped away from early last year.
In her ABC appearances, she honed what is likely to be her book tour message – one of a thoughtful diplomat who is prepared to reintroduce herself to voters, especially women.
With her book lining the walls of booksellers nationwide, Clinton stopped at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan for her first book signing of the two-week tour.
Flanked by Clinton devotees, many of whom waited overnight to get a copy signed by the former first lady, Clinton said she wrote the book “for anybody who wants to think about and learn about what is happening in the world today, why America matters, and why the world matters to America.”
She was forward looking in her brief remarks, telling that audience that “we have a lot of hard choices ahead of us in our country to make it as great and strong as it should be.”
Outside Barnes & Noble, many in line saw themselves not just waiting for the first event of a book tour. Instead, they saw this as the kickoff to Clinton’s new political future.
“I see it as the beginning of her campaign, and I think a lot of people do,” said Susan Kellman of Brooklyn, who waited with her daughter overnight to be one of the first in line. “I think everybody is hopeful that that’s what it is. So it’s nice to be here at the beginning.”
Security was tight at the event and attendees were warned beforehand that Clinton would not be personalizing each book and would not pose for photos. Book buyers, however, were happy to wait as long as they got to meet the former senator.
“I would love to get a picture, but I understand,” said Natia Mosashvili as she waited in line.
Monica, Benghazi, presidential politics
On Monday, Clinton was asked by Sawyer about Monica Lewinsky, the one time White House intern whose affair with the President in the mid 1990s set the stage for his impeachment and launched a wave of books, TV specials, and yet another chapter of scandal.
Lewinsky resurfaced last month because of a Vanity Fair essay in which she reflected on her infamy and her life after the saga.
“She is perfectly free to do that,” Clinton said about Lewinsky’s essay. “She is, in my view, an American who gets to express herself however she chooses. But that is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about.”
Clinton added that she has “moved on” and if she had the chance to talk to Lewinsky she would “wish her well.”
“I hope that she is able to think about her future and construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in,” Clinton concluded.
Much of the Sawyer interview focused on Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, including her relations with Russia, sanctions imposed on Iran and the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, as she has done before, portrayed herself as someone who moved the ball forward on diplomatic issues, not someone who fixed everything.
“Let’s talk about what was accomplished and then talk about the continuing threats,” Clinton said when pressed about her State Department record.
On Benghazi, Republicans contend that the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other 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 U.S. should be “in the majors” on world affairs.
Clinton has taken responsibility before for what happened in Benghazi, and she did so again in the interview. She also defended herself by saying she “was not making security decisions” for the Benghazi compound.
Roberts pressed Clinton Tuesday about her record at the State Department and whether she will distance herself from Obama if she runs for president.
“Where I disagree with President Obama, I will be clear,” Clinton said. “But in many areas, he and I worked together and I think we saw positive results. I am very proud of what we did during the time that I was there.”
Republicans have seized on a number of comments from Clinton’s interviews and book rollout, but none more than her comments about the family’s finances.
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.”
And on running, Clinton told Sawyer she would “decide when it feels right for me to decide.”
She also entertained the idea of not running.
“I like what I am doing,” she said.
CNN’s Laura Dolan, Leigh Remizowski, Kevin Bohn, Donovan Long, Robert Yoon and Yon Pomrenze contributed to this report.