Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pointed to her willingness to speak to Wall Street firms and the poor “optics” of those highly paid appearances as a contributing factor for her loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Clinton takes responsibility for what she termed a “mistake” in “What Happened,” her memoir of the campaign that goes on sale Tuesday. In the book and a TV interview ahead of its release, Clinton said she doesn’t intend to run for office again but will not step back from political life.
“As an active politician, it’s over. I am done with being a candidate,” Clinton said in an interview with CBS’s Jane Pauley that aired Sunday. “But I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country’s future is at stake.”
Ten months after her loss, the former secretary of state and first lady said she’s still coping with it. “I think I am good, but that doesn’t mean that I am complacent or resolved about what happened. It still is very painful,” she said in the interview.
After facing rounds of criticism for taking too little or the wrong kind of responsibility for her loss, Clinton, 69, made a clear effort in the book to account for the mistakes that “burn me up inside.” Bloomberg News obtained a copy of the book before its official release.
One mistake Clinton describes in the book was her decision to deliver paid speeches to Wall Street firms after leaving the State Department in 2013. While her speeches to investment bank Goldman Sachs and other companies were meant to be “interesting” to her audiences, they weren’t newsworthy, she wrote. Still, they gave her opponents — first, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary race, and then Trump — ammunition to use against her.
“My opponents spun wild tales about what terrible things I must have said behind closed doors and how as president I would be forever in the pocket of the shadowy bankers who had paid my speaking fees. I should have seen that coming,” Clinton wrote. “When you know why you’re doing something and you know there’s nothing more to it and certainly nothing sinister, it’s easy to assume that others will see it the same way.”
Ultimately, it was “a mistake,” she said.
“Just because many former government officials have been paid large fees to give speeches, I shouldn’t have assumed it would be okay for me to do it,” Clinton wrote. “Especially after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, I should have realized it would be bad ‘optics’ and stayed away from anything having to do with Wall Street. I didn’t. That’s on me.”
Watching Trump now, Clinton said, she’s angered by his embrace of financial industry officials, including former Goldman Sachs executives Steven Mnuchin, now Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, director of the White House’s National Economic Council.
“When I read the news that he filled his team with Wall Street bankers after relentlessly accusing me of being their stooge, I nearly threw the remote control at the wall,” Clinton wrote.
“What Happened,” published by CBS-owned Simon & Schuster, includes an accounting for many of the missteps and strategic errors that Clinton said she made during the campaign, and for which she explicitly takes responsibility.
“The most important of the mistakes I made was using personal email,” Clinton told Pauley. Even so, the book includes a lengthy defense of her decision, after becoming secretary of state, to use for official business an email account hosted on a server in the basement of her Chappaqua, New York, home. It also delves into an accounting of the investigations and media scrutiny she faced during the 2016 campaign.
Clinton pins particular blame on then-FBI Director James Comey’s decision to send lawmakers a letter about his agency’s probe just days before the election. Without that late October bombshell, she wrote, “I believe that in spite of everything, we would have won the White House.” She also discusses at length alleged Russian interference in the election, Trump’s ties to Russia, and developments through the first half of 2017.
Clinton’s language about her future in the CBS interview was more definitive than in her book, in which she said she was “amused and surprised” by talk earlier this year that she was considering running for New York mayor. She said she needs to nurture younger leaders in the Democratic Party, while adding that she’s not going to back down just because she lost the presidential race.
“If Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney can find positive ways to contribute after their own election defeats, so can I,” Clinton wrote. “I will speak out on the causes I care about, campaign for other Democrats, and do whatever I can to build the infrastructure we need to succeed.”
In the book, Clinton grappled with the criticism she’s faced for more than a quarter century in the national spotlight. She pinned much of it on gender.
“What makes me such a lightning rod for fury?” she wrote. “I’m really asking. I’m at a loss,” she said, before detailing some of the ways her gender has complicated her political career.
“I suspect that for many of us — more than we might think — it feels somehow off to picture a woman president sitting in the Oval Office or the Situation Room,” she wrote. “It’s discordant to tune into a political rally and hear a woman’s voice booming (“screaming,” “screeching”) forth. Even the simple act of a woman standing up and speaking to a crowd is relatively new.”
Clinton said she looked to another former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, as a potential model for the final years of her life because the wife of the 32nd U.S. president “put up with so much vitriol, and she did it with grace and strength.” By the time Roosevelt died in 1962 at 78, “the New York Times obituary described how she outlasted ridicule and bitter resentment to become ‘the object of almost universal respect,’” Clinton wrote.
The former Democratic nominee has plenty of work to do to change public opinion. Last month, only 30 percent of those surveyed for an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said they had very or somewhat positive views of her — six points worse than Trump.
“There is no way I am going to waste the time I have,” Clinton wrote. “I know there is more good to do, more people to help, and a whole lot of unfinished business.”