Four Corners journalist Sarah Ferguson interviewed Hillary Clinton in the US during her only Australian interview on camera. Sarah writes about what it was like speaking face to face with the woman at the centre of the most stunning election loss in modern US history, republished here from the ABC website with full permission. You can watch the full interview on ABC TV on Monday at 8:30pm.
The Hillary Clinton I met in New York for our recent interview with Four Corners was an angrier, less guarded version of the person we have come to know over her decades in public life.
I have been following Hillary Clinton’s career since the mid-1990s as a journalist in Washington reporting on the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The Hillary Clinton I knew then would not have said publicly she had been “shivved” by the former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey.
She referred to Comey’s handling of the investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state, in particular the letter written by Comey days before the election re opening the investigation: “He did shiv me, yeah … we also know that opponents of mine, like former mayor Rudy Giuliani, knew something was coming.
“So there was clearly an effort to derail my campaign at the end.”
In response to Comey’s remark before Congress that thinking he may have influenced the election made him “mildly nauseous”, she said: “It makes me sick.”
‘An emotional gut punch’
The unexpected loss to Donald Trump seems to have reconfigured her interaction with the world as she grapples with her role in the loss and the role of others.
She describes the Russian hacking of her campaign’s emails during the tight race as “more significant than Watergate”.
But it is in the personal arena where she sounds the most raw, recounting the difficulty of turning up for Trump's inauguration: "It was very much an emotional gut punch to be there."
In the vision of Hillary Clinton waiting to walk onto the balcony of the Capitol to watch Trump swear the oath of office, the pain is visible.
Her jaw is clenched and she blinks trying to summon the composure that has characterised her public appearances for decades — in the White House as first lady, during her failed bid to reform the US healthcare system, through the many public travails associated with her husband's serial disgraces and as senator and then secretary of state.
I asked her why she had not responded more viscerally to Trump in the second presidential debate, where he clearly moved into her personal space.
She said she wanted to call him out but decided to say nothing.
"We practised him stalking me, which we thought he would do, and indeed he did," she said.
We discuss the ridiculously fake Russian social media accounts throwing shade at Hillary during the election. (Post continues after audio.)
"You know, it's not easy for women to be passionate, even angry, in public; you know that.
"We train ourselves to be as, you know, as calm and together as we can and when any woman expresses her feelings and her emotions as you know your former prime minister Julia Gillard memorably did, you know, it produces mixed reactions by people."
Still a hard path for women
As a young reporter in Washington the mid-1990s, the first person I had lunch with was political powerbroker and close Clinton friend, Betsey Wright.
Wright told me over lunch in the Willard Hotel (somewhat puzzled, I felt, that she had agreed to lunch with such a minnow) that politics was cruel to figures like Hillary Clinton.
She developed the sentiment in a Four Corners program that year, investigating the Clintons' real estate dealings in Arkansas, "when an independent and very smart woman becomes effective, there is a need to turn her into a sorceress casting spells so that eventually she can be burnt at the stake".
According to Hillary Clinton, the progress for female professionals in the 20 years since then has been limited.
— 4corners (@4corners) October 16, 2017
"We still have endemic sexism and misogyny and anybody who tries to claim otherwise is either blind or disingenuous … we've knocked down discriminatory laws and obstacles that stood in the way of when I was a young woman. But the attitudes are still there," she said.
'Imagine what it feels like'
In loss, Hillary Clinton is more candid than we are accustomed to in politicians.
That doesn't mean a wholesale acceptance of the errors she made, campaigning decisions in the swing states, or her failings as a candidate, but how many politicians at that level have written a sentence like this?
"I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people — millions and millions of people — decided they just didn't like me. Imagine what that feels like. It hurts. And it's a hard thing to accept. But there's no getting around it," she said.
Listening to her speak now, it's as if the loss, however searing, has freed her to reconnect more directly with the younger version of herself, singled out by Life magazine on graduation from Wellesley College in 1969 as an icon of her generation.
The young graduate criticised the politicians of the era for the limited scope of their ambition and charged her peers to bring about change on a much grander scale.
She has ruled out a return to politics; almost a year on, it is unclear yet how the loss to Trump will galvanise her.
"I think about it every day, because it was, it was a horrible loss," she said.
"And if I had lost to a normal Republican, I would've been disappointed, but I would not have been so deeply worried as I am now."