Former FBI Director James Comey’s “intervention” with a letter just 11 days before the election concerning her use of a private email server was the determining factor in who would win the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday.
She also told NBC’s “Today” show that she thinks that if the election was held now, and both she and President Donald Trump were on the ballot, there would be a “50-50 percent chance I would” win the election.
“Trump is the president. I respect, you know, the fact that, you know, he is the president. I just wish that he were the president for all Americans,” Clinton said, while discussing her latest book, “What Happened.”
“I wish that he was not engaging in a lot of the scapegoating and behavior in office that I think is bad for the country.”
Clinton said that she could have put more into her book, but independent observers such as Nate Silver and others had said “but for that intervention, I would have won, but it stopped my momentum.”
“It drove voters from me, understandably,” Clinton said of Comey’s letter. “This is not about the voters who were saying, well, wait. What does this mean and how do I evaluate it? So I think that in terms of my personal defeat was the most important factor.”
Comey’s letter, leaked on Oct. 28, said that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” concerning Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The release cut Clinton’s lead in the polls, leading in part to her loss.
“I learned about it on the campaign plane, and I was stunned, to be honest,” Clinton told “Today” show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. “I didn’t know what to think about it because I knew there was nothing there, and we had trouble finding out what was really going on. And so I was just dumbfounded.”
She said she thought at the time, “What is he doing? The investigation was closed. I know there’s no new information.”
Clinton told Lauer and Guthrie that she could have given the FBI any information that could have been relevant, but with Comey’s letter it became clear that that would not be necessary.
“He could have called me up,” Clinton said. “He could have called others involved up and said ‘Hey, can we look at this new stuff just to make sure it’s stuff we’ve seen before?’ But no, he had to write letters to Congress which immediately were leaked, so I feel very strongly that he went way beyond his role in doing what he did.”
She said she searched “really hard” to determine what Comey’s motive for the letter might have been, but she couldn’t find it.
“What really was shocking to me is that when it finally became clear that there was an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and associates for potential connections with Russia,” Clinton said. “We didn’t know about that before the election, and even after the election when [Comey] was asked, ‘well, why didn’t you tell the American people about that,’ that would have been an important issue? He said, ‘oh, it was too close to the election.’ Now, try to square that. I don’t understand it.”
Clinton said she does agree that President Donald Trump should have fired Comey, but she thinks he was fired for the wrong reasons.
“He should not have been fired for Russia,” Clinton said. “He should have been disciplined, whether or not fired, that’s not for me to say, but he should have been disciplined for the way that he behaved on the e-mail investigation and in fact the deputy attorney general, backed by the attorney general of this administration, laid out in excruciating detail all of the protocols and rules that he broke.”
Clinton also said she could not say for sure that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia on the election.
“That’s what this investigation is to determine,” Clinton said. “What I try to do in the book is to put forth all the information that I think should trouble Americans, whether you’re Republicans or Democrats or anything else. My book, manuscript was turned in at the end of June, early July. Lots has happened since then.”
Clinton noted that the information that has surfaced since that time has suggested that there was a plan from Russian President Vladimir Putin and the “highest levels of the Kremlin to influence our election.”
“We now know that it was everything from Facebook ads and phony people acting like Americans who were Russians,” Clinton said. “We know so much more than we did even when I turned the manuscript in, and we know that there was communication. That certainly has come out, and we know that there was a lot of interesting coincidences, if you will, between what people associated with Trump were saying at the time and what later came to pass.”
She pointed out that there were Trump associates saying in August, well before emails from her then-campaign chairman, John Podesta were hacked and leaked, that he was “going to end up in the barrel.”
“Well, how would they have known that?” Clinton asked. “The Russians hacked those e-mails. They stole them. Let me just quickly say though that getting to the bottom of this, which I hope everybody agrees we must.”
Clinton said had she been elected and the Russian interference come to light, “I would have stopped at nothing to make sure this never happened again to anybody.”
The former secretary also wrote about sexism in her new book, and said that research supports the idea that race is a “much more motivating factor” for voters than gender, but at the same time, highly successful women have a hard time being liked.
“I write in the book about an incredible conversation I had with Cheryl Sandberg . . . she says the research is absolutely clear. The more professionally successful a man becomes, the more likable he is. The more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likable she is.”
Clinton also noted that the more a woman is in service for someone else, the higher her ratings.
“When I was Secretary of State, I came out of that job with I think a 69 percent approval rating because I was in service to my country,” Clinton said. “I was in service to our president. I was proud to do it, but when a woman walks into the arena and says I’m going for this myself, it really does have a dramatic effect on how people perceive her.”
Clinton said she’s had “a lot of stuff” thrown at her for years and has tried to overcome it and stay focused on her job and do her best.
“I write about how — like today the Benghazi tragedy,” Clinton said. “You know, I have one of the top Republicans, Kevin McCarthy, admitting, like we’re going to take that tragedy, because we’ve lost people, unfortunately, going back to the Reagan administration if you talk about recent times in diplomatic attacks.”
Benghazi, she continued, “was turned into a political football, and it was aimed at undermining my credibility, my record, my accomplishments.”
Clinton admitted that some of the “noise” around her is of her own doing.
“I mean, I’m a person, I know that, but a lot of it is for whatever reason the idea among some that I really do take seriously the threat posed from the right to this country, to our economic equality, to our civil rights,” said Clinton. “I take it really seriously. It’s not just a political issue for me, and they are constantly trying to undermine me.”