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.
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
JUDY WOODRUFF: You single out James Comey, the former FBI director.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes, I do.
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
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
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?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes.
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.
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.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes.
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?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: No.
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
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
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."
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: "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.
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