Hillary forced to defend claim of Clintons being 'dead broke'
A claim by Hillary Clinton that she and her husband Bill left the White House "dead broke" despite their huge earning power left her unexpectedly on the defensive yesterday as she took her first steps back into the world of partisan politics.
The former First Lady's political slip came as she embarked on a nationwide book tour that most in Washington regard as the first step towards a fresh bid for the White House in 2016.
Excited supporters waved campaign-style signs and queued for hours outside a book signing in New York, hoping for a moment with the woman they hoped would become America's first female president.
But Mrs Clinton was forced to begin the day on the defensive as Republicans seized on what they called her "out-of-touch" comments about her personal wealth and that of her husband.
The controversy began when, during a television interview with ABC, the former secretary of state defended the tens of millions of dollars that she and Mr Clinton have made in speaking fees since he left the Oval Office in 2001.
"We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt," she said. "We had no money when we got there and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education, it was not easy."
The Clintons left the White House millions in debt, largely because of legal fees following the scandal of Mr Clinton's sexual relationship with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky during the mid-1990s. But they were also anticipating multi-million-dollar book deals and lucrative speaking appearances by the former president.
Republicans said it was "laughable" for the couple to describe themselves as having been broke while buying multiple homes in Washington and New York.
"It's clear nobody could be more out of touch than Hillary Clinton," said a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Mrs Clinton later clarified her comment, saying she and her husband were "obviously blessed" and adding: "I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today."
The gaffe is not expected to cause real damage to Mrs Clinton but may leave her supporters anxious that her campaign instincts are rusty after four years as secretary of state, a diplomatic role that largely floats above the political fray.
But it did not matter to the hundreds of supporters who gathered to see her at a book store in New York, the state she represented for eight years as a senator.
In their fleeting moments with Mrs Clinton, many urged her to run for president in 2016.
Asked whether the advice of the enthusiastic crowd had persuaded her to run, she beamed broadly but gave a careful diplomatic response to the question.
"Oh we'll see, we'll see," she said as she stood behind a pile of books, poised for another burst of signing 'Hillary'.
First in line for a signed copy of 'Hard Choices' was Sean Brennan, a 41-year-old Clinton enthusiast, who took up his position outside the store at 2pm on Monday, 21 hours before the signing began.
"I want her to know that this country desperately needs her to run," he said.
Outside was parked a campaign-style bus emblazoned with the words "Join the Movement". The bus is the work of Ready for Hillary, a political group led by Mrs Clinton's former aides and allies and intended to serve as a surrogate campaign until she officially announces her intent to run for the White House.
For now, Mrs Clinton remains the overwhelming frontrunner to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found 66pc of Democrats supported her, compared with just 12pc for Joe Biden, the vice-president and her closest rival.
Republicans hope to chip away at her popularity by assaulting her handling of the 2012 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which the US ambassador and three other Americans died.
Mrs Clinton accuses her opponents of trying to engineer "a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans". (© Daily Telegraph, London)