In Senate testimony last week, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, denounced the sexual-assault and misconduct allegations against him as a “political hit” and part of a left-wing conspiracy orchestrated “on behalf of the Clintons.” On Tuesday, in an interview with The Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., Hillary Clinton offered her first public response to Kavanaugh’s claims. She also warned about the ongoing threat to U.S. election security posed by Russia, discussed whether she would classify President Trump as a racist, and described what she sees as existing threats to democracy.
Below, a transcript of the interview.
Hillary Clinton: Thanks. Thank you.
Jeffrey Goldberg: They like you. They like you.
They really like you. The—welcome everyone and thank you all for being here. Thank you, Margaret. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Secretary Clinton.
We are, in a relatively brief period of time, going to talk about a whole bunch of important things: the future of democracy, the future of America, Russia, a couple other countries maybe as well.
But I want to start with you just on—on the events of the past week. In his extraordinary presentation in the Senate, Brett Kavanaugh said that the, quote, political hit job, end quote, directed at him was being done on behalf of the Clintons, among other people.
Clinton: I mean, really, yes. It deserves a lot of laughter.
I wasn’t watching when he said that; I was having to be somewhere else and away from a TV and even my phone. And so I heard about it later and—you know, look, I thought it was just part of the whole of his very defensive and, you know, unconvincing presentation.
And I told someone later, “Boy, I’ll tell you, they give us a lot of credit.”
Thirty-six years ago, we started this against—against him. I mean it is ...
Goldberg: Back at Yale.
Clinton: Yeah, well, even before, in high school apparently.
So I—I don’t—you know, look, I want the FBI to conduct as thorough an investigation as they possibly can within whatever restraints are imposed upon them. But I think for anyone who believes there’s such a thing as a judicial temperament and that we want judges, particularly those on our highest court, to approach issues, approach plaintiffs and defendants, with a sense of fairness, that there’s a lot to be concerned about.
Goldberg: Right. I want to ask you a question about Dr. Ford for a minute. There are a lot of Democrats who—and a lot of other people—who are absolutely certain, 100 percent, her—her recollection is the absolute truth.
I’m asking you this as a lawyer. Do you feel 100 percent certain that the events that she described are true and are therefore disqualifying?
Clinton: Look, I—I watched as much of her testimony as I could. I found her very credible. You have to ask yourself, Why would anybody put themselves through this if they did not believe that they had important information to convey to the Senate?
She basically said that; she thought it was her civic duty. So I found—I found her presentation, I found her willingness to say “I don’t remember that but I remember this” to be very convincing. And I—I felt a great swell of, you know, pride that she would be willing to put herself out there under these circumstances.
Goldberg: Could you frame this a little bit in the context of what we’re all seeing as—or understanding to be almost a war developing between the genders, or between large factions of gender?
Women’s anger, of course, has become an enormous issue. Just frame—frame that out against the backdrop of some of your own experiences in dealing with—being the first major party female candidate for president?
Clinton: Well, I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t frame it so starkly, as you just did. I think what is happening is that, on many, many fronts, women and—young women and girls are saying, “You have to hear our stories, too. We have the right to be heard.”
And I remember those—we saw it all on—on TV, those two young women following Senator Flake into the elevator. And they were determined that he would know that there were young women like them, representing many, many more, who wanted to be heard and wanted their stories to be taken seriously.
So I don’t see it so much as some kind of conflict as finally righting the balance. Because there’s been a tremendous imbalance on women’s lives, women’s narratives. They’ve been historically dismissed, condescended to.
I have a chapter in my book about being a woman in politics. And it’s not just about me; it’s about a lot of other women who find themselves picked apart, second-guessed, held to a double standard.
And at some point it just is time to say, “Enough.” You know, we want to be judged on our merits. We want to have as much right to our agency, to our autonomy as we should be able to have.
So it’s—it’s trying to get back to—or maybe for the first time—get to a balance where women’s lives are valued as much as men’s lives. Their stories are as important as men’s stories; they are written into history, not out of history. So that’s what I see happening.
And, of course, there’s some anger and frustration, but that’s the core of it.
Goldberg: There’s—there’s a lot of anger and frustration and rage among males. And we saw that a little bit in, I think, the performance, the testimony of Judge Kavanaugh. Forget the backdrop, the issues that brought that hearing to—to—to reality; do you think that the temperament he showed in that hearing disqualifies him from the Supreme Court? And what would be—what would be the downstream consequences for the Supreme Court of someone who, in his confirmation hearing, was as obviously partisan?
Clinton: Yeah. No, I think he’s ...
Goldberg: Talk—talk about that a little bit.
Clinton: Well, these—these are hard questions, Jeffrey. And, you know, I was in the Senate for eight years. I voted against nominees from President George W. Bush on the basis of, you know, their positions.
But I don’t remember any of them, nor the most recent appointment by President Trump of Justice Gorsuch, behaving in such a way.
I mean, I disagree with them about issues. I regret that they take the stands that they take. I worry about the consequences of their decisions, how it will affect, you know, so many people and their lives and our country as a whole. But this latest example is in a different category. We—we have not seen anything quite like that for a long time. You know, Justice Thomas vigorously defended himself, as some of us can remember. And it was a—a very painful, difficult time for Anita Hill and for many of us watching.
And I—I remember the march of women in the House over to the Senate. Because, again, it very much felt like—and, in fact, it probably was—the denial of the legitimacy of women’s stories.
In this case, though, the performance, the behavior, was quite out of bounds. I—I don’t ever remember anything like that. And, you know, as somebody who has testified … under difficult circumstances, I ... I—I would wonder about ...
Goldberg: You were never so emotional.
Clinton: Well, look, for 11 hours, you couldn’t have been. But for whatever period of time.
So there is something you seek in judges of a judicious temperament, you know, people who are able to discipline themselves to be open to the evidence wherever it might lead, to be fair to all the litigants who are appearing before them. You know, I am a recovering lawyer. I used to practice law, and I was in different kinds of courts. And this was quite unusual, what we saw the other day. And certainly the senators should, on both sides of the aisle, take that into account.
It’s not like there is not a long list of other judges who would decide the same way. You know, Democrats didn’t necessarily all want to support Justice Gorsuch, but nobody was standing up saying that not only do I disagree with him, but I do not think he is temperamentally fit for the bench.
So there’s a long list of people that could be chosen from in order to get to the same result in terms of the issues that are important to this president and the Republicans in Congress.
Goldberg: Right. So just before we close this out—no vast left-wing conspiracy organized by you against Brett Kavanaugh?
Clinton: It would have had to have happened starting 36 years ago, and that seems a stretch, even for the vast right-wing conspiracy stories about me.
Goldberg: Can I ask you a question about that language? I understand the situation which gave rise to the expression “vast right-wing conspiracy,” but given where political discourse has gone, do you regret using that kind of language? Do you think that, that over the past 15, 20 years, we all have not been as careful as we should have been about the way we describe political opposition, political opponents?
Clinton: Well, look, when I—when I said that, I was aware of a very well-organized effort that had been going on for some years—it did not start in the ’90s; it predates the ’90s—of powerful interests on both economical and ideological grounds, trying to undo a lot of the progress that we’ve made as a country. They were against—some of them, against the new deal. Maybe some against, you know, the progressive era back in the turn of the last century.
But they were certainly against the Great Society, against a lot of what President Johnson was able to accomplish in terms of supporting people, providing Medicaid, providing Medicare. There is a very significant, and influential, and well-funded, and quite persistent effort in the country that has been going on for quite some time. Now, I think it is important to kind of keep doors open, but it’s difficult to keep doors open when there seems to be this concerted effort to slam doors in the faces of people with whom the other side disagrees, or on grounds of economics or health care, you know, want to make life more difficult.
So I am certainly in the camp that says, “Look, we should start trying to talk to each other, listening to each other.” But how do you talk to former colleagues of mine in the Senate who are Republicans, who denied Judge Merrick Garland even the courtesy of meetings, let alone a hearing and a vote? The Constitution gives the responsibility to the president to nominate, and to the Senate for advice and consent.
So when you are dealing with a political entity like the modern Republican Party, that is trying to win at all costs, it’s hard to know quite how to get in there to have that conversation.
And I think the best thing we can do is to take back the House and the Senate in November, and then start having a conversation.
Goldberg: So, in the essay of yours that we just published in The Atlantic, which is based on the new epilogue to this book, which is just out this week, I believe, you describe the unspeakable cruelty of the Trump administration, the monstrous neglect of the Trump administration, related to Puerto Rico. You write that Trump and his cronies did so many despicable things that you cannot keep them straight. This is all in the first paragraph of the essay.
When I read it a couple of months ago, I thought, Now she has gone to 11. The—the—walk us through a little bit your analysis of where we are. We’re practically at a midpoint in this presidency.
I—even I was surprised at the level of your judgment on what’s happened so far. Talk about this in the specific context of the threat to democracy that you see emanating from the White House.
Clinton: Well, I—I would have wanted it to be different. I said in my concession speech we needed to give the president an open mind and try to come together as a country. And from the beginning, starting with the speech he gave at the inauguration, it was clear that was not his intention. He was not going to be reaching out to the country to people who had voted against him or had doubts about him. He wanted to just double down on the people who supported him. That’s one thing. That’s a political calculation. But then the policies of the administration.
Now there did seem to be two major, substantive reasons why people, Republicans, would have supported him, despite the doubts of other Republicans. One, cut taxes, cut it to the bone. Disable the government as much as possible. Throw us into exploding deficits and unbelievable debt, then go after Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid, which they’ve never liked anyway, and they are on the path to doing that. And they seem almost gleeful about it, you know, their budget process up on the Hill right now is all about, how do we take money out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, using the excuse that, well, we’re going to have these big deficits and debts. And, of course, they are the ones who have really hit the ignition on having such a fiscally irresponsible policy.
They also wanted to get the Supreme Court majority, so they could continue to side with corporations, they could continue to move toward restricting, if not overturning, Roe v. Wade. They could continue to protect big political interests, like they did with Citizens United, in terms of undisclosed money, and they could continue to shrink the electorate, which they did with the Voting Rights Act, which, you know, has spawned this explosion of suppression in states.
Goldberg: He’s effective as president, isn’t he?
Clinton: Well, he has Republicans in the Congress who go along with him, who are ...
Goldberg: I’m looking at trade this week. I’m looking at ...
Clinton: Well, look, I—it’s not like everything he does all day is bad.
There are things that occasionally, much to my surprise, do pop up, and say, okay. I mean, basically he took the much-reviled Trans-Pacific Partnership Act, and he took elements out of it that the Obama administration had negotiated, and stuck them into what is the latest iteration, nafta 2.0.
But here’s what I’ve been more concerned about, put aside even the judicial threats to individual rights to our—our, you know, future as a—as a nation together and put aside the economic damage that is going to be done on the medium term.
I say in my afterword there are these concerted assaults on our democracy, degrading the rule of law. We have seen it every—every week of this administration. The kind of insulting comments made about the FBI, about our intelligence agencies, about the whole law-enforcement process of our country.
And trying to go after individuals and—and make them the—the signals to others in the Justice Department and elsewhere that we’re preferring to be a rule of men, preferably one man, as opposed to the rule of law. So degrading the rule of law.
Delegitimizing our elections—I mean the ongoing threat from the Russians, from the kind of tactics we saw in 2016, has not abated. It is still there. They were successful; they’re not going away. That really is, and should be, a concern to everybody, regardless of party.
No. 3, the attacks on truth and reason and facts, which started, as we remember, right after the inauguration was done on the steps of the Capitol. I’ve been to every inauguration since 1993—there weren’t that many people there, let’s be honest.
And all of a sudden ... you know, you have the president ...
Goldberg: Now you’re just trolling him.
Clinton: Yeah, the president ...
Goldberg: Now you’re just—you’re really ...
Clinton: ... You know, the president’s new staff, they’re settling into the White House, and they’re being trotted out in front of the camera with phony pictures and claims. And you had to say to yourself, “Wait a minute. This kind of stuff happens not in the United States—this happens somewhere else.” It happens in authoritarian regimes where they try to literally change reality in front of you.
The fourth, spreading corruption—you know, look, there are so many examples of this, and it deeply concerns me. I write about some of them in the afterword. But to see decisions being made, as I believe they have been, on what’s best for him personally, his family, his business, his cronies, is—you know, more than I would have expected.
And then, finally, undermining our national unity—pitting us versus them. And that goes back to your question about why can’t we, you know, try to once again engage in some kind of dialogue and debate.
Well, there are some people who are worthy of that and a whole lot of other people who aren’t. And all of that goes right at the core of what it means to have a democracy.
Goldberg: Do you think he’s a racist?
Clinton: I think he has thrown his lot in with many people and groups whose stated objective is white nationalism, white supremacy. I mean, how could you explain what he did and why after Charlottesville?
I mean, we need a president at moments like that, regardless of party—and we saw it. Think—remember what George W. Bush did after 9/11, you know, he went to a mosque. He went to a gathering place for American Muslims in order to say, “We’re not at war with you. We’re at worth with those people who plotted and planned to drive those airplanes into the World Trade Center.”
But that’s not what we got after Charlottesville. And that remains one of the most troubling episodes in this presidency.
Goldberg: So what’s the word for someone who consorts with racists, takes advantage of racists to elevate him ... No—no—no, I mean, it’s a serious question.
Clinton: Yeah, it is a serious question.
Goldberg: What’s the—what’s the—how do you define this? Like when do you just become a racist yourself if you’re taking advantage of racism to advance your own personal goals?
Clinton: Well, but, but it’s—what he’s doing is broader even than that because he has been racist, he’s been sexist, he’s been Islamophobic, he has been anti-LGBTQ.
I mean, there’s a long list. It, it, I don’t think it’s useful to say, “Oh, we figured it out—this is what he is.” He has a view of America that is incredibly constrictive. And he talks to that America. He talks to them all the time.
And it’s by no means a majority, as we know, but it is a very hard core who are responding to him and supporting him for a variety of reasons, whatever they might be: economic reasons, Supreme Court reasons, or some of this other more troubling biases and prejudices.
Goldberg: You are fairly rare in Washington these days in that you have direct experience with two of the most controversial presidents in American history, Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. Talk about the two of them. Talk about—maybe it’s too early in Trump’s term to render a judgment. But Richard Nixon, Donald Trump—who’s the worst president?
Clinton: Well. I—I will leave that to history. What Jeffrey’s referring to is that when I was a very young lawyer, I was on the House Judiciary impeachment inquiry staff, gathering evidence at the request, direction of the House Judiciary Committee to determine whether Richard Nixon should be impeached. You cannot make my life up, I will just tell you that.
So I was very—I was very young, I was working with superb lawyers, and I will tell you what was most significant to me is that there was no prejudging. We were told the way we had to proceed was to collect facts, and the facts would then lead to other facts, which would lead to conclusions. But we were not to jump to conclusions.
And in those days, this was obviously precomputer. The way we collected our facts was on index cards, and we had thousands and thousands of index cards. But I so respected the—both the Democratic and Republican lead lawyers in the way that they conducted themselves.
You know, Richard Nixon is, in many ways, a tragic figure, I think. I think that—you know, there were many things he did that, again, were quite laudatory from my perspective: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Legal Services Corporation. He—he started a lot of institutions within Washington. He was willing to look at problems and try to fix them.
But he became fixated on his position, his power, his enemies, his adversaries. And that’s when he went awry. He went after them. He went after them through burglaries. I mean, you think about it, you know, the Watergate burglars stole paper; the Russian burglars stole online cyber material. Same purpose: to win elections, to put down your opponent.
So there are some similarities. But I think that it would be difficult at this time, certainly, to, you know, draw those parallels. I think, again, what you want—what I would want is no prejudgment; you go with the facts wherever the facts lead you. If you’ve read Mueller’s two indictments, which, if you’re interested, I recommend because they tell quite a story—they are so precise, and they are so detailed.
One about the social-media interference, weaponization of information by the Russians and their proxies—their bots and their trolls and everybody else, even real Russian agents who were embedded in our country who were running false news sites and the like. And the second indictment is chapter and verse about the hacking. Not only the hacking of the DNC and the hacking of John Podesta, but the hacking of the DNC cloud and the theft of information that we were using to target undecided or persuadable voters.
So it’s worth looking at that, because—not to go backwards, but to go forwards, and frankly, to go forwards to November 6. We don’t know what’s happening right now. I wish we did. I wish we had a government that actually cared about the level of attack that is happening, but more and more reporters, more and more political scientists are really digging deep and uncovering a lot, along with the Mueller investigation.
Goldberg: Do you think that the Trump administration and the various agencies are doing enough to stop what you’re describing? Has it continued?
Clinton: No. No. But, I mean, look at the Congress just a few weeks ago refused to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation to provide more support to states to protect themselves against further intrusions and thefts of information—maybe interferences with the machines.
We now know that the machines are eminently hackable and very few states have taken the necessary steps to protect themselves against that, and so the Congress turned a blind eye. They turned away this bipartisan legislation, and of course the administration thinks this redounds to their benefit, so they’re not particularly interested right now.
But things change. I mean, you know, Putin could wake up with a headache and decide he doesn’t like the Republicans anymore—who knows? But this is the kind of general threat, this attack on our nation, that should be taken seriously by everybody and should be the No. 1 issue on our national-security headline right now.
Goldberg: Two years later, virtually two years later, do you believe the formula is as simple as this: Vladimir Putin stole the election from you?
Clinton: I’m not speaking for myself. I’m speaking for the evidence that is being presented.
Goldberg: But do you believe that the election was stolen from you?
Clinton: I believe—I believe that the combination of the Russian campaign, the WikiLeaks being the cutout for Russian stolen information, the role that Cambridge Analytica and other organizations like that played in connection with the Republican apparatus, the National Committee, and other allies and the Trump campaign certainly altered the outcome in enough places that we have to ask what really happened.
But again, I don’t want to look backwards, and I tried to say that in the afterword. I try to say two things: Yes, if we ever get to the bottom of this, we will learn even more than we know now, and what we know now is incredibly troubling.
There’s a new book coming out, I think at the end of the week, by the political-science professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and in it she goes, boy, deep as you can get into the two different forms of attack—basically following the Mueller indictments, the social-media attacks and the hacking attacks—and she concludes that the hacking attacks had a demonstrable impact on the outcome. That’s not me; that’s her. And obviously I didn’t even know she was writing it.
So we do have to get to the bottom of this. It is the first time, as I say in the afterword, that we have been attacked by a foreign power and have done nothing. I mean, it would be like—I can’t even imagine—it’s a horrible example, but after 9/11, George W. Bush said, “Well, you know, I don’t have time to meet—I don’t have time to worry about this.” It was terrible. We feel sorry about it, we’ll rebuild New York and the Pentagon, but we’re not going to worry about it.
Well, at a certain point, that’s what this is turning into. The evidence continues to accumulate. People in Congress have tried on a bipartisan basis to deal with it, to get more help out there to states and counties because we have such a decentralized election system. But unfortunately, we’re not doing enough, and I can only hope and pray that we don’t see a repeat of what happened in the midterm elections.
Goldberg: I have one final short question for you, and asking has been—there’s been a lot of people who asked me this: Your paperback is out. What’s next for you?
Clinton: I’m having the best time. I’m doing a lot of really interesting and new things for me.
So, for example—there is a lot of stuff, but I’ll just give you one. I read a book that a friend of mine—my good friend Lissa Muscatine, who, along with her husband, Brad, owns Politics and Prose, the great bookstore here. She sent me a book called The Woman’s Hour, by a historian I did not know, a woman named Elaine Weiss. And I read it, and it’s about the absolutely concluding fight for the 19th Amendment to give women suffrage in our country, which will be 100 years in 2020.
I read it, and I was so captivated I called the author and I said, “I love your book, and the characters just come alive, and it’s so hard fought to the very end, and it only passed by one vote.” I said, “Have you thought about maybe trying to get a movie made or a series made?” And she said, “Well, I wouldn’t even know where to start.” And I said, “Well, could I help you?” And she said, “Sure.”
So I called a few people, including my longtime friend Steven Spielberg, and I said, “Steven ...”
Goldberg: Now you’re just name dropping.
Clinton: I am. I’m totally name dropping. I said, “There is this fabulous book about the fight to pass suffrage in the last state, Tennessee. It takes place in Nashville in July and August 1920.” And I said, “I think it would be a great movie series,” and so he said, “Well, we’ll read it. We’ll look at it.” They loved it. So we’re going to be working on that. I’m going to be working on that. I’m very excited about it.
Goldberg: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for joining us today.
Clinton: Thank you. Thank you all.
Goldberg: Thank you, everyone. Thank you.