Not even Diane Sawyer could refrain from gently pushing back at former Secretary of State and prospective presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s claim that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House in January 2001. Talking about the huge fees both Clintons now rake in for speaking engagements, Sawyer wondered: “Do you think Americans are going to understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?”
But Sawyer could easily have gone to ABC’s own videotape library to show how preposterous Mrs. Clinton’s claim of poverty was. Back on December 15, 2000 — more than a month before the Clintons left the White House — ABC’s World News Tonight suggested the massive book advance for Hillary Clinton’s post-White House memoir was astonishing and perhaps corrupt for an incoming United States Senator. [Video and transcripts after the jump.]
“Mrs. Clinton is going to write another book, a very expensive book,” then-anchor Peter Jennings told his audience. Reporter John Martin put the then-First Lady’s advance of $8 million in context: “Hardly anybody has ever received an advance of this magnitude. Colin Powell got $6 million; the Pope got $8.5 million. And when the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was offered $4.5 million, the House banned book advances because of potential conflicts of interest.”
The expert talking head in the story, Gary Ruskin of the Congressional Accountability Project, suggested Mrs. Clinton was, in effect, selling her new office: “Book contracts, and especially book advances, are one way that a large corporation can put a great deal of money into the pocket of a powerful politician....An enormous lump sum payment up front beforehand can just be a way for her to exploit her office for personal gain.”
But in her interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts on GMA this morning, Mrs. Clinton claimed that, as a U.S. Senator, she could contribute nothing to paying off the couple’s accumulated legal fees: “We were something like $12 million in debt. And you know, that was something that we really had to work hard. And I was in the Senate and could not do anything to help us meet those obligations.”
What Mrs. Clinton neglected to point out was that a majority of their legal debts were paid for by a Legal Defense Fund, which brought in more than $8 million by early 2001, leaving only about $4 million in debts for the Clintons themselves — a figure about half of the $8 million book advance she had already secured before leaving office.
Here’s a transcript of the December 15, 2000 World News Tonight story, which makes it clear that the Clintons had already begun to accumulate some fairly hefty sums before leaving the White House:
PETER JENNINGS: There’s one other political story today. Mrs. Clinton is going to write another book, a very expensive book to the publisher that gets it. ABC’s John Martin reports tonight on the book and the questions about it. Mrs. Clinton is about to be sworn in as a senator. And with a book commanding these prices, there were bound to be questions of ethics.
JOHN MARTIN: Mrs. Clinton has written successful books before. But hardly anybody has ever received an advance of this magnitude. Colin Powell got $6 million, the Pope got $8.5 million. And when the former speaker in the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was offered $4.5 million, the House banned book advances because of potential conflicts of interest. But the Senate did not, so watchdogs are alert.
Mr. GARY RUSKIN (Congressional Accountability Project): Book contracts, and especially book advances, are one way that a large corporation can put a great deal of money into the pocket of a powerful politician.
MARTIN: Mrs. Clinton is likely to be a powerful senator, and even though such payments are not illegal, the appearance it creates could be a problem.
Mr. RUSKIN: An enormous lump sum payment up front beforehand can just be a way for her to exploit her office for personal gain.
MARTIN: To cover an advance of $8 million, Hillary Clinton would have to sell as many books as the latest “Harry Potter,” that’s two million. Industry analysts say that’s possible, although not a sure thing. Author Gail Sheehy wrote a book about Hillary Clinton and says she’s not likely to discuss matters that would make the book such a hot property.
Ms. GAIL SHEEHY (Author, Hillary’s Choice): I don’t think you’re going to get what really went down between her and Bill Clinton and the answer to the big question that everybody around the world always asks, ‘Why did she stay with him?’
MARTIN: As of this evening, sources said she had chosen a publisher and was working out final details for a book deal that could make Hillary Clinton a lot of money. John Martin, ABC News, Washington.
JENNINGS: Much smaller money, President Clinton on his last day in London yesterday, ducked into a pub for lunch and a half pint of beer. Then he left without paying the bill. Perhaps he forgot. It was the American equivalent [of] about $36. The owner stopped complaining when a tabloid newspaper stepped in to cover it.