WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton criticized Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, telling a packed theater Monday night in the nation’s capital that the U.S. media got “played” and joking that she ran against both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin last year.
Clinton, who is on a media tour promoting her new book, “What Happened,” was introduced at the event to thunderous applause as having won “3 million more votes than the Republican nominee.” Trump now lives in the White House, but Washington remains a Democratic stronghold in which more than 90 percent of the district voted for Clinton last year.
Onstage, Clinton recapped the “infamous” day last October when the Obama administration announced Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, the Washington Post broke the “Access Hollywood” tape story, and Clinton’s campaign chairman’s emails began getting released on WikiLeaks. The U.S. intelligence community later accused the Kremlin of feeding the emails to WikiLeaks.
“John Podesta’s emails were stolen — I hate the word ‘hacked’; they were stolen,” Clinton said of her former campaign chairman. She sarcastically called it “such an amazing coincidence” that WikiLeaks dumped his emails within an hour of the Washington Post publishing the tape of Trump boasting about groping women. And she insisted that people close to Trump “certainly” knew about Russia’s interference.
She said that the Russians and their allies — “whoever they turn out to be” — sent the press on a “wild goose chase” over Podesta’s emails because releasing them “created the illusion of transparency.”
“If you think you’re getting something from behind the screen maybe it’s more legitimate even though you’re being played by a bunch of Russians,” Clinton said of the media’s attitude. (Clinton has also recently said that Trump is being “played” by Putin, Russia’s president.)
Earlier on Monday, the former secretary of state told NPR host Terry Gross in an interview that she would not rule out questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s win if it’s discovered that Russia’s interference was deeper than is known. But she also said she doesn’t think there’s a “mechanism” to overturn the results.
At this event, Clinton was questioned by her former speechwriter and the owner of the D.C. Politics & Prose bookstore, Lissa Muscatine.
At one point, Muscatine asked Clinton to choose between two options in a playful list, including “Chardonnay or vodka?” Muscatine ended the questions with “Putin or Trump?”
“Yeah … well, I have to take that under advisement for the following reason: I ran against both of them,” Clinton quipped.
Clinton warned that Russia’s “weaponizing” of information was a major threat to U.S. democracy, and praised Congress for looking into Facebook hosting Russia propaganda during the election. She talked about how fake news sites spread the false story claiming Podesta was involved in child trafficking at a D.C. pizza restaurant, which prompted a disturbed man to show up with a gun at the restaurant and open fire. (No one was injured.)
“I think it’s one of the most serious challenges we face in politics,” Clinton said. “If we don’t get a handle on information that is not just controversial [and] protected by the First Amendment, but aimed at spreading lies to the extent that can cause behavior like we saw in this terrible instance, it will not stop.”
Clinton also spoke about how she believed former FBI Director James Comey’s letter in late October hurt her with white women voters, a majority of whom voted for Trump. In her book and in many interviews about it, Clinton has said Comey played a decisive role in her loss by announcing he was looking into more of her emails just before Election Day.
“It stopped my momentum and it played into concerns women have about whether they are making a mistake with their vote,” Clinton said. “We could see that a lot of women in particular turned away; they were discouraged. I don’t blame them — they didn’t know what to believe.”
Clinton said women are also under pressure from people around them about whom to vote for. “When a woman runs she has to work extra hard to convince other women that she can do the job she’s running for,” she said.
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