Clinton airs grievances against friends and foes in book ‘What Happened’
(CNN) — Hillary Clinton latest memoir, in the eyes of the former secretary of state and those around her, is meant to be a reflection on the 2016 election and serve as an examination of Donald Trump’s stunning win.
At times, though, the nearly 500-page book entitled “What Happened” reads like Clinton’s burn book of zingers, where page after page oozes with her contempt for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, fired FBI Director James Comey, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a host of other political figures.
Clinton does take some responsibility for her stunning 2016 loss, admitting that she didn’t see the defeat coming, misunderstood the electorate and underestimated Trump from the outset. She also notes how there are times she looks back at the campaign and wishes she reacted more vigorously than she ultimately did, despite her staff and advisers urging restraint.
But the former secretary of state lays plenty of blame at the feet of outside influences, including Comey’s persistent investigation into her email practices and the Russia’s meddling, to explain the loss.
Of all the 2016 figures in Clinton’s book, most of the blame for her loss is heaped on the fired FBI director.
Clinton’s most damning accusation against Comey — whom she labels the “rash FBI director” — is that she would have won the election before he informed members of Congress that he was reopening the investigation into her emails on October 28.
“If not for those decisions, everything would have been different,” she said. “Comey himself later said that he was mildly nauseous at the idea that he influences the outcome of the election. Hearing that made me sick.”
Comey turned the entire election “upside down” in late October.
“Now voters were worried my presidency would be dogged by more investigations, maybe even impeachment,” she concluded.
Clinton also regrets how she handled Comey’s July 5 news conference where the former FBI director said she had been “extremely careless” in handling her email.
That comment, Clinton writes, was “completely unexpected and inappropriate.”
“My first instinct was that my campaign should hit back hard and explain to the public that Comey had badly overstepped his bounds — the same argument Rod Rosenstein would make months after the election. That might have blunted the political damage and made Comey think twice before breaking protocol again a few months later,” Clinton writes. “In the end, we decided it would be better to just let it go and try to move on. Looking back, that was a mistake.”
For Clinton, there is no one more deserving of American derision than the Russian President, who she charges with undermining her campaign to elect Trump.
Putin, Clinton writes, had a “personal vendetta against me and deep resentment toward the United States,” which led him to launch “a massive covert attack against our own democracy, right under our noses.”
Clinton says Putin “doesn’t respect women and despises anyone who stands up to him, so I’m a double problem.”
Clinton writes that Trump was “the perfect Trojan Horse for Putin” and, as she has in the past, writes that Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is more serious than the Watergate scandal.
And all of this continues to consume Clinton, who writes that she thinks about Trump’s accusation about not being a puppet “every time” she sees the President on TV.
“No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet,” Trump said during a debate.
“This man is President of the United States,” Clinton writes. “And no one is happier than Vladimir Putin.”
Clinton’s view of Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is that he is a charlatan front for the Russian government.
She calls him “odious” and a “hypocrite” for saying he is a “champion for transparency, but for many years, he’s been helpful to Putin, one of the most repressive and least transparent autocrats in the world.”
Clinton writes that it was “maddening” that Putin and Assange were working together to undercut her 2016 campaign.
“Of course I had to face not just one America-bashing misogynist but three,” she writes. “Of course I’d have to get by Putin and Assange as well.”
Clinton generally heaps praise on Biden, but his comments during a March appearance at the University of Pennsylvania angered her, she writes.
“Joe Biden said the Democratic Party in 2016 ‘did not talk about what it always stood for — and that was how to maintain a burgeoning middle class,’ ” Clinton writes. “I find this fairly remarkable, considering that Joe himself campaigned for me all over the Midwest and talked plenty about the middle class.”
Clinton rejects the idea that she didn’t speak enough about the economy, but does say in the book that her campaign had struggled staying on message, a knock that she somewhat pins on the media.
Clinton showers former President Barack Obama with praise throughout the book, but during a lengthy section on Russia, the former secretary of state openly questions what would have happened if Obama had more forcefully called out Russia for their 2016 election meddling.
The comment, which pales in comparison to Clinton’s other attacks in the book, is as close as Clinton comes to attacking her former boss.
“I do wonder sometimes about what would have happened if President Obama had made a televised address to the nation in the fall of 2016 warning that our democracy was under attack,” she writes. “Maybe more Americans would have woken up to the threat in time. We’ll never know.”
Clinton also subtly knocks Obama for his suggestion that she lay off directly criticizing Sanders, her Democratic primary opponent whom she largely ignored in early 2015.
“My team kept reminding me that we didn’t want to alienate Bernie’s supporters. President Obama urged me to grit my teeth and lay off Bernie as much as I could,” Clinton writes. “I felt like I was in a straightjacket.”
Clinton’s book is chock full of scorn for Sanders, her 2016 rival and Vermont senator.
Clinton does praise Sanders — saying he “deserves credit for understanding the political power of big, bold ideas” and for inspiring “millions of American, especially young people.” But the kind words are largely overshadowed by her enmity.
She knocks Sanders for his stance on guns.
“Bernie Sanders, who loved to talk about how ‘true progressives’ never bow to political realities or powerful interests, had long bowed to the political reality of his rural state of Vermont and supported the NRA’s key priorities, including voting against the Brady Bill five times in the 1990s,” she writes.
And the attacks he leveled against her, saying they lay the groundwork for Trump.
“(Sanders’) presence in the race meant that I had less space and credibility to run the kind of feisty progressive campaign that had helped me win Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2008,” she writes.
“Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t make an argument against me in this area on policy, so he had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character,” she adds.
Stein “wouldn’t be worth mentioning” in other scenarios, Clinton says, but the Green Party candidate who attacked the former secretary of state throughout the campaign contributed to her loss, Clinton writes.
“So in each state, there were more than enough Stein voters to swing the result, just like Ralph Nader did in Florida and New Hampshire in 2000,” Clinton writes.
Days after Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women and men marched in cities across the country during what came to be known as the Women’s March. Clinton did not attend, writing that she decided to decline invitations because “it was important for new voices to take the state, especially on that day.”
And while Clinton writes that the protests helped her overcome the shock of Trump becoming president — “If the inauguration on Friday was the worst of times, Saturday turned out to be the best of times” — she does admit the day was “bittersweet.”
“I couldn’t help but ask where those feelings of solidarity, outrage and passion had been during the election,” Clinton writes.
Clinton adds that at least two dozen women — mostly those in their 20s — have approached her since the election to apologize for not voting. Clinton says she has responded with “forced smiles and tight nods” and retells a story of a mother forcing her daughter to apologize to Clinton for not voting.
“I wanted to stare right in her eyes and say, ‘You didn’t vote? How could you not vote? You abdicated your responsibility as a citizen at the worst possible time! And now you want me to make you feel better,’ ” Clinton writes. “Of course, I didn’t say any of that.”
“These people were looking for absolution that I just couldn’t give. We all have to live with the consequences of our decisions,” she writes.
Clinton was pestered throughout the campaign by Black Lives Matter protesters, who questioned her commitment to their cause and decisions the Clinton administration made during the 1990s.
One of the most vocal challenges from Black Lives Matters came during an event Clinton hosted in New Hampshire, where protesters tried to get into the event to disrupt it but settled on meeting with Clinton afterward.
Clinton writes that while she “understood the frustration of the Black Lives Matter activists” and “respected their conviction,” she worried that activists were “more interested in disruption and confrontation than in working together to change policies that perpetuate systemic racism.”
Clinton charges the Senate majority leader with “actively playing defense for Trump and the Russians.”
“We know now that even after he was fully briefed by the CIA, McConnell rejected the intelligence and warned the Obama administration that if it made any attempt to inform the public, he would attack it for playing politics,” Clinton writes. “I can’t think of a more shameful example of a national leader so blatantly putting partisanship over national security.”
She adds: “McConnell knew better, but he did it anyway.”
Chaffetz, a former congressman from Utah, was a thorn in Clinton’s side throughout the election, promising to continue investigating Clinton despite the fact the FBI had closed their inquiry.
Clinton recalls meeting Chaffetz at the inauguration, expect writes that she thought she was meeting Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff.
“Later I realized it hadn’t been Priebus at all. It was Jason Chaffetz, the then-Utah congressman and wannabe Javert who made endless political hay out of my emails and the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, Libya,” Clinton writes, a reference to the antagonist in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Miserables who becomes obsessed with pursuing Jean Valjean, the book’s protagonist.
After the encounter, Chaffetz posted a photo of his handshake with Clinton, but added this dig: “The investigation continues.”
“What a class act,” Clinton recalls. “I came this close to tweeting back, ‘To be honest, thought you were Reince.’ ”
Clinton recalls how she met then-Rep. Ryan Zinke, future Trump administration interior secretary, during the traditional lunch following inauguration.
Zinke, Clinton recalls, brought his wife over to say “hello.”
“This was somewhat surprising, considering that in 2014 he called me the ‘Antichrist,’ ” Clinton writes, adding that when she met him she confronted by saying, ‘You know, congressman, I’m not actually the Antichrist.’ ”
“He was taken aback and mumbled something about not having meant it,” Clinton writes. “One thing I have learned over the years is how easy it is for some people to say horrible things about me when I’m not around but how hard it is for them to look me in the eye and say it to my face.”