For HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, their new book about Hillary Clinton’s time as the nation’s secretary of state, political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes gained unusual access to Hillaryworld.
In fact, for the just-released volume — 440 pages including the index — they got to talk with the former first lady herself, as has been reported. That very likely helps explain how they were able to get so many former aides — they did more than 200 interviews — to talk with them as they did their research. That and the fact that a few of the former top U.S. diplomat’s aides who serve as Clinton’s gatekeepers helped smooth the way.
The result is a quickly moving narrative that captures the frequently uneasy relations between Team Obama and Team Clinton, lashed together as they were by political necessity.
Readers get an insider’s view of key moments of Clinton’s transformation from vanquished presidential candidate to her loyal service in the Cabinet of the man who defeated her, President Obama.
They also learn that Clinton used her State Department time to study up on how she could better deploy the Internet in a future White House run and that she remained forward leaning throughout her tenure in the use of military force.
Allen, who was Politico‘s White House bureau chief before going to Bloomberg News last month, and Parnes, who covers the White House for The Hill, talked with It’s All Politics about some of what they learned in writing their book. What follows is an edited version of our discussion.
IAP: Everything in the book leads me to believe that she’s going to run for president in 2016. What’s your conclusion after writing the book?
Allen: “She’s running for president. She’s been running for president since 2008. If you look at her concession speech, her convention speech, her decision to work at the State Department; if you look at the decisions she made within the State Department in terms of prioritizing, in terms of continuing to build the Clinton network, in terms of trying to address deficiencies in her operation, most notably, their lack of familiarity with technology and how it could be used for fundraising, for political organizing and for communication and trying to turn that into a strength while she was at the State Department … if you go through all these things you realize this is an operation that’s been up and running. It never really stopped running. And the real question isn’t whether she will run for president but whether she will stop running for president.”
So what are some of the newsiest bits you came up with for the book?
Parnes: “The hit list, which was basically news for two days in D.C., if not more. And then, we take you into how she mourned, how she got over her [loss in the 2008] campaign. What she was actually thinking in terms of getting over her campaign. How she said she delegates, she doesn’t have to basically mourn, she has people who do that for her. We take you inside her ’18 million cracks’ [concession] speech and how that came about, sitting at her dining-room table. Biden dropping to his knees [at her feet in a backstage demonstration of gratitude after her 2008 Denver convention speech to nominate Obama]. If anyone wants to know how these big moments in her world happened, it’s all in there in very great detail.”
Allen: “We introduce readers right off the bat to a scene where Hillary Clinton [as secretary of state] is showing her top lieutenant at the State Department a video of [the April 5, 2010] attack on the American Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. It’s somewhat similar to what happened, on a smaller scale, in Benghazi. It was successfully repelled. But we give that context, and that’s something that hasn’t been reported before, that they were reviewing these security images. And this was something that she was very well aware of, how dangerous these outposts were.”
Jonathan Karl of ABC News panned your book for The Wall Street Journal. One criticism was that it was overly positive toward Clinton. Another was that you spent more time discussing Clinton’s efforts as secretary of state to get private financing for a U.S. pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 than on Benghazi. Your response?
Parnes: “I should point out that [it was] basically the only major paper that gave us a bad review. If you look at [the New York Times‘] Michiko Kakutani, who is the leading literary critic, her review is pretty solid, and she is who she is. In addition, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Christian Science Monitor [and] the Toronto Star. It goes on and on. It’s one bad review that people are seizing on, but if you look at every other major paper, I think we’ve done our jobs.”
Allen: “Also, I’m not entirely sure he read the whole book. … We have no fewer than 53 pages on Benghazi, far more than 10 percent of the book. Not even including the decision to go into Libya where we detail Hillary Clinton’s role in putting together that coalition. His job as a critic is to review. He did what The Wall Street Journal asked him to do. Obviously no hard feelings on our part. No big deal.”
So what surprised you the most of what you learned while researching the book?
Parnes: I think I was surprised by how funny she is. Like people were telling these stories all the time. I came into this thinking she was this buttoned-up, conservative woman. But she has a pretty wicked sense of humor. I think that came through.
[Parnes cites Clinton’s reaction to an incident that occurred before Obama’s 2009 inaugural when a photograph of Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau groping a cutout of Mrs. Clinton became an Internet sensation. At a time when distrust was still high between the Clinton and Obama camps, the soon-to-be secretary of state left Favreau a playful voice mail: “I haven’t seen the picture yet … but I hear my hair looks great.”]
Allen: “I guess the gap between the way Republicans talk about her in public as part of the political battle and the way a lot of them do … in interviews. I think there’s a lot more basic respect for her competence and for her character and her personality than comes off in the public debate. We talked to Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee who has conducted the Benghazi investigation. The terms with which he speaks about Secretary Clinton are incredibly respectful. He talks about them always having had a good relationship. I was floored by that.
“The other thing that surprised me was that there are still some people in the Clinton and Obama camps who absolutely hate each other, and say nasty things about each other, and will never, ever get over that. It may be 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent, a minority. But some of those wounds never heal.”