PBS NewsHour


Looking back, Hillary Clinton sees dangers for democracy

Calling the Trump presidency "a clear and present danger to our country and to the world,” Hillary Clinton says there is no leadership from the White House on exposing how Russia tried to destabilize American democracy. The former senator, secretary of state, first lady and presidential candidate sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss her new memoir, “What Happened,” and much more.

AIRED: September 15, 2017 | 0:22:01

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hillary Clinton, she is one of the most prominent and polarizing figures

in modern American history.

This week, she is back in the spotlight promoting a new book.

She opens up tonight to Judy Woodruff, revealing where she gives President Trump credit, but

also her fears that he is dangerous for the world.

Judy sat down with the former presidential candidate, secretary of state and first lady

at the CORE: club in New York City, and began by asking about the premise of the book: What

happened in the 2016 election?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Former U.S. Secretary of State: I really wasn't ready or equipped

to run for president against a reality TV candidate.

I take running for president and being president really seriously. It's a -- maybe the toughest

job in the world, right? And I knew that there was unfinished business from the successful

two terms of President Obama, whom I had served, but that we needed to go further on the economy,

on health care, and so much else.

I really prepared, and I prepared what I wanted to say, how I would defend what I wanted to


It turned out that was very hard to communicate. It was a time when an empty podium got more

broadcast minutes than all of the policies that I was putting forth.

And now that there's been a lot of analysis coming from all sorts of independent observers,

I think it was clear that the kind of campaign I was running, and the seriousness with which

I looked at the agenda I wanted to represent and then execute, was just out of sync with

the anger that a lot of the electorate felt, or the disappointment that another part of

the electorate felt, so that my brand of leadership, which is very focused on bringing people together,

solving problems -- it's what I have always tried to do -- just had a hard time being

as powerfully compelling in that campaign as I think it has been in previous years for

other candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You single out James Comey, the former FBI director.


JUDY WOODRUFF: My question, though, is, he was in the role he was in because the then-Attorney

General Loretta Lynch had pulled back and essentially turned over the leading role in

overseeing the FBI -- or the investigation into your e-mails because of that meeting

on the airport tarmac with your husband, former President Bill Clinton.

So, my question is, to what extent did Loretta Lynch and President Clinton make a costly


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Judy, I just don't buy that.

I honestly reject that premise, partly because there's a chain of command in the Justice

Department. There's a deputy attorney general. We all now know who it was, Sally Yates, a

woman of experience and integrity.

We knew at the time, after it was reported that, you know, both my husband and Loretta

Lynch said they didn't say a word about this. The optics were not good. I admit that.

But in this chain of command, if the attorney general is recused, you know, the deputy attorney

general. And what we know happened is that the investigation was getting nowhere. There

was nothing to find. And he was in a position of having to accept the evidence that there

was no case.

I think what he did, against the advice of people around him in the FBI and the Justice

Department, was in large measure due to political pressures that he was under from people that

he had worked with before in the FBI and outside the FBI.

And so, when you're a prosecutor or you're an FBI director, if there's no case, there's

no case. And, instead, he had a press conference and really, you know, went after, not just

me, the entire State Department.

OK, that was over on July 5. Right. That -- you know, that, I thought, was a breach of professional

ethics and responsibility and a rejection of the protocols within the Justice Department.

It was over. And we were doing fine going forward.

What really was costly, and what I believe was the proximate cause of my defeat, was

his October 28 letter, which has never been adequately explained or defended, had nothing

to do with what happened, you know, months before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But my point is, he wouldn't have been in that position had Loretta Lynch

not pulled back after that meeting with President Clinton.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I just don't -- Judy, I don't believe that.

I mean, he was in a position that was subordinate to the chain of command in the Justice Department.

So, Loretta Lynch recuses. It's like when Sessions recused. The deputy attorney general

steps forward and starts, you know, running the investigation.

There was -- there were plenty of people who were in the chain of command who were telling

him, I'm told, you know, OK, nothing there, end it. And that's not -- that's not what

he did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also write about the role of gender, the fact that women are treated

differently in politics, held to a higher standard.

You quote your friend Sheryl Sandberg talking about how women, the more successful they

are, the less they are liked.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: People all the time say, oh, if you only knew Hillary Clinton

the way I know Hillary Clinton.

Well, it's really hard to get to know me, or any candidate. And I would be asked questions

like, well, why are you really running for president?

I didn't hear Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders asked that question, as though there

was something hidden or -- or so unusual about a woman stepping forward and saying, you know,

I think I could be a good president, I hope you will support me.

So, I do believe, and in this chapter called "On Being a Woman in Politics," that we have

to come to grips with the endemic sexism and misogyny. Of course, it's not just in politics.

It's in business. We have seen a lot of that coming out of Silicon Valley, and it's in

the media, it's in culture. We know that.

But, in politics in particular, where now some of my former colleagues and friends in

the Senate are being attacked, and they're being attacked in very sexist ways, you know,

Elizabeth Warren told to, you know, sit down and basically shut up, don't persist, Kamala

Harris being attacked.

Kirsten Gillibrand talks about being manhandled by fellow members of Congress in the gym.

You know, I want to blow this up, so that people have to confront it. And then maybe

whoever comes next won't have to face it as much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Trump campaign.

You think Trump operatives cooperated, colluded with the Russians in order to prevent you

from winning this election. You're a good lawyer. Do you think that meeting in New York

last year between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner was illegal, that

laws were broken by that meeting?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We -- I don't know enough about whether that's the case.

I mean, this investigation that's going on is necessary and incredibly important, because

what happened, certainly so far, proves there was communication between the Trump campaign

and Russian representatives that they have gone to great lengths to try to hide and not


There were meetings like the one you're talking about. There were others as well. There were,

now we know, Russian paid ads that played into the Trump campaign. We now know that

some of the placement of ads and the weaponization of information by the Russians was very skillfully

injected into our campaign, which suggests that they were getting advice from someone

and somewhere.

We know that the WikiLeaks drop within one hour of the "Hollywood Access" tape on October

7 was meant to do exactly what it did, divert from Trump's admission on tape that he was

a -- a sexual assaulter.

So, you can add all of this up, and you can just say it's all coincidence, but were campaign

finance laws broken? Were foreign agency laws broken? Were financial dealings irregular

or illegal? We don't yet know, but I have a lot of confidence in the work that is going

on in the Senate to delve into these issues.

And I have a lot of confidence in, you know, Robert Mueller and his investigation to tell

us whether there's something there or not.

But my point is bigger than that. Let's put what happened to one side. If I had been elected

president, and the intelligence community came to me and said, well, you won, but Putin

was trying to defeat you, even though I won, I would still say, we have got to get to the

bottom of this.

Right now, we don't have any leadership from this White House to try to understand what

our principal foreign adversary was doing to interfere with our elections, to, in effect,

destabilize our democracy. So, I think this is -- this should be of interest to any American.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are very tough in the book, and now, on President Trump.

After the birther issue he raised over President Obama, his campaign rhetoric, and now, as

president, his comments on Charlottesville - - and he repeated some of those yesterday

- - do you believe the president is racist?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Here's what I believe.

I believe that he has given a lot of encouragement and rhetorical support to the Ku Klux Klan.

He accepted the support of David Duke. I believe that he has not condemned the neo-Nazis and

the self-proclaimed white supremacists in Charlottesville and other settings.

I believe that the Congress had to, on a bipartisan basis, pass a resolution asking that white

supremacy be condemned by this president, which he then signed. And we will wait and

see what he does.

So, I can't tell you what's in his heart, Judy. I don't know. It could be total rank,

cynical opportunism. He's got a hard-core base that believes these things, and he's

going to keep feeding it.

He took advantage of some of the conspiracy theories that these people propagate, like

birtherism. So, I can't tell you what's in his heart. I know that he was sued for racial

discrimination in his business.

So I think that what's important is that, as a leader, he speak up on behalf of the

rights of all Americans and the respect we should show for the diversity of our country,

which I think is one of our great strengths.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Having said all that, if he is able, as president, to oversee the passage

of legislation to protect the dreamers, these young people who came to this country as children,

undocumented, but they came here young, if he's able, if President Trump is able to get

that done, something we're seeing movement on in the last few days, he will deserve credit

for that, won't he?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, after so many presidents tried to do it.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes, he will deserve credit.

I will be among those giving him credit for it, because memorializing that protection

for these 800,000, you know, striving young people in legislation would be a legitimate

accomplishment. And that would only come about because of bipartisan support, that he would

then be able to sign such a bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There have been deals -- I mean, speaking of the dreamers, there have

been deals cut in the last -- what appear to be deals in the last few days between Democratic

leaders in Congress and the president, not just on the dreamers, on the debt, on funding

for the hurricane-ravaged areas.

Why shouldn't Democrats cooperate with this president, if it's going to lead to the kind

of legislation that Democrats believe in?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I think that we are seeing, from the two Democratic leaders,

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, very skillful negotiations that are leading to positive

outcomes, that are going to help people, that are part of the broader Democratic agenda.

That's what should be happening in Washington, and it's certainly what I would have done

had I been president. I would have worked with Republicans if they'd been willing to

work with me, and I would look for ways to make that possible.

But that doesn't mean it wipes out a lot of the other behavior and rhetoric that we hear

coming from the president, which we hope will, you know, not continue at the pace it has

over the first nine months of his presidency.

But I think, to get protection for dreamers, to save the full faith and credit of the United

States by raising the debt limit, all of that is in the interest of America, and it shouldn't

be a partisan issue. And I hope that there'll be more of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the Democratic leaders.

Your former New York colleague, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, has said he

gets Trump. He said they get along. He said, we can get deals done, he can successfully

work with him.

You agree?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I think he's showing that he can.

And I have had many conversations with Chuck since the election, and have, you know, certainly

seen him firsthand as a very experienced legislator and someone who, consistent with his principles

and values, will see whether there's a way to make progress.

You know, compromise can't be a dirty word in American politics. There's plenty to argue

about. This administration is still talking about ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthiest

of the wealthy. That should be resisted with every fiber of our being.

But where there might be areas to try to cooperate to get positive results, you know, I think

that both Chuck and Nancy have a lot of proven skills in, you know, finding where those are

and then trying to, you know, get them passed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you quickly to put your foreign policy hat on.



JUDY WOODRUFF: What's your assessment of the Trump national security team?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I don't know what the team is. You fundamentally don't have

a team. I think that's one of its biggest deficits.

You have a secretary of state who's largely invisible, except for his obsession with cutting

the budget of the State Department. You have a...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Has he reached out to you?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Tillerson?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I don't know -- I don't know who he's reached out to. He certainly

hasn't reached out to me.

You have Secretary Mattis, who often acts like both secretary of defense and secretary

of state, because there's a big void to kill there.

You have a White House that has been, you know, in disarray over national security from

the very first day.

And so many of the people in our government with great expertise -- let's take North Korea,

which is a very serious threat right now. There were, and maybe still are, a number

of people in the State Department who speak the language, understand the history, have

studied Kim Jong-un, are ready to be part of a diplomatic offensive. They're not being

called upon.

So, I think that you have got a president who makes diplomatic pronouncements on Twitter,

who gives aid and comfort to people like Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, because often

what he says is not about them and the threat they pose, so much as going after our friends

and allies, as, you know, President Trump just did going after South Korea.

That makes no sense at all. And he's being played by these dictators in a way that undercuts

our credibility and the capacity to come up with a diplomatic solution in that region

and other places.

So, I'm deeply concerned. And I think, in many ways, the Trump presidency poses a clear

and present danger to our country and to the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on North Korea, how dangerous a moment is this? I mean, they flew another

missile yesterday, or last night, over Japan. Do you sense that we could be close to some

sort of military action?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, he -- Kim Jong-un is certainly being more and more provocative.

And taunting Japan, as he is doing with these missiles, raises really serious questions

for the Japanese government.

So, here's what I believe. I believe we should have a full-court press diplomatic effort.

If Trump doesn't want to listen to the experts inside his own government, then go to people

outside in think tanks and academia who know about this very complicated region, and particularly

North Korea.

Make it clear that we will do everything in our power to protect our allies, South Korea

and Japan, including installing even more missile defense.

Now, the Chinese don't like that, but then the Chinese better be more on board with us

in trying to rein in Kim Jong-un. And the Japanese are not for long going to leave their

defense against this aggressor in North Korea to us, when they can't really rely on Trump's

understanding of our promises.

That means Japan may well consider rearming even more. That will make the Koreans and

the Chinese upset.

So, we have a lot of cards to play in getting people to work together, as well as protecting

our allies. And, at the end of the day, there is a military threat that has to be posed,

and it should be very clear: If Kim Jong-un attacks our allies or any part of America,

including Guam, we will retaliate with devastating force.

We don't want to do that. We're not interested in that kind of confrontation. But I don't

at least see in any public way an effort by this administration to do what I would be

doing right now, and that is, China, South Korea, Japan, get them all on the same page

and go after what would be ways into influencing Kim Jong-un.

Most cards are held by China, but some threats can very well be made by, not just us, but

South Korea and Japan as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it frustrating for you not to be able to be in there working on this?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, it is frustrating. And it's not just because I'm not there.

I don't see enough people who have experience and understanding, their being part of the

decision -making. I just -- I haven't seen it.

And, you know, you don't have to agree with how I see the world, but you need people who

can bring substance to the table. And I don't think there's enough of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, you have been saying that you don't plan to run for office again,

but you will be very active in public life.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I'm excited about this next chapter in my life. I think there's

a lot to be done.

And, in the book, I try to sound some alarms, because what happened to me is not sui generis,

like, OK, it happened to her, we can move on.

Voter suppression will make it more and more difficult. You have a White House commission

that was set up under the guise of fraud, which hardly exists anywhere in America, to

suppress even more voters. You have got the Russia unanswered questions. You have got

sexism and misogyny.

And I think the press has to do some soul-searching.

How can it -- in a democracy -- and, you know, that's really one of the real shining contributions

of your program, Judy.

In a democracy, if people don't have accurate information, how can they be active citizens?

How can they be part of the debate? And if you are facing powerful forces on the right

and in this administration who want to create an alternative reality that feeds into their

objectives for our country, you more than ever need the press to cut through that, and

to be as accurate as possible.

And so I think all of us have some work to do, because, look, we love this country. I,

for one, am deeply grateful for the opportunities that I have been given. I think we all have

a role to play in making sure it's there for my grandchildren in a way that is just as

vigorous, contentious, argumentative, but reality-based, evidence-based, reason-based,

which was at the core of who we have been as a democracy for 240 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton.

The book is "What Happened."



JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thanks, Judy. Good to talk to you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You will want to tune in Monday for part two of Judy's interview, where

Secretary Clinton cites well-executed voter suppression of African-American voters as

a reason she lost Wisconsin.