Hours after saying she may still formally challenge the results of the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton returned to Washington on Monday night and said a “brilliant” psychological campaign by the Russians — perhaps in direct concert with the Trump campaign — had a major impact on the outcome last November.
In an appearance at Washington’s Warner Theatre to promote her new book, “What Happened,” the former secretary of state spoke at length about how her own campaign often failed to react quickly to changing moods in the electorate, how “fake news” spread throughout the public consciousness and affected voters’ attitudes, and other big-picture takeaways from the ugly, divisive race.
But Mrs. Clinton saved her heaviest shots for President Trump and his campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russians. Asked a tongue-in-cheek question about whether she prefers Mr. Trump or Russian President Vladimir Putin, her response drew massive applause from the vehemently pro-Clinton crowd.
“I have to take that under advisement for the following reason: I ran against both of them,” she said.
More broadly, Mrs. Clinton said the hack of her campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal email account was part of a complex plan to influence voters. She suggested that Americans eventually will learn the true extent of coordination between pro-Russian actors and major players in the Trump campaign.
“The psychology of it was brilliant,” she said of the way the emails were systematically released to the public, beginning just hours after a decade-old “Access Hollywood” tape was released to the public that showed Mr. Trump bragging in vulgar terms about groping women without repercussions.
“They had to be weaponized,” she said of the emails. “They had to have elements plucked out and perverted in a way that would be hard to imagine and then sent back into the cyber virtual world.”
Before Monday night’s event, Mrs. Clinton left open the possibility that she may challenge the results of the election itself. Russian actions during the election, she said, could justify such a move. She did not address that issue Monday night.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she told NPR of a possible legal case against the election results, though she quickly admitted there’s virtually no legal path forward.
“There are scholars, academics, who have arguments that it would be [possible], but I don’t think they’re on strong ground. But people are making those arguments. I just don’t think we have a mechanism,” Mrs. Clinton said.
What was also clear Monday night is that the former first lady, despite the wave of criticism that’s come as a result of her post-election blame game, still has plenty of passionate followers.
Outside the theater Monday night, Clinton supporters lined up well before the doors opened at 6 p.m. Many wore “Hillary 2016” shirts and caps, and vendors were selling buttons and clothing adorned with slogans — such as “Stronger Together” — from Mrs. Clinton’s failed presidential campaign.
Inside, the event almost had the feeling of a campaign rally. Audience members erupted in cheers just after 7 p.m. as organizers simply announced the program would soon begin.
When Mrs. Clinton arrived on stage, the crowd gave her a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes.
In the book, and in her appearance Monday night, Mrs. Clinton spends a fair amount of time blaming others for her defeat. She admits some shortcomings in her campaign, but also casts blame on former FBI Director James B. Comey for reopening an investigation into her use of a private email server late in the race, on then-President Obama for not more forcefully addressing Russian interference in the race, and on others.
She’s especially harsh on Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who energized progressives and mounted a stiff challenge to Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic Party primary.
In the book, Mrs. Clinton says the senator was more interested in transforming the Democratic Party than he was in ensuring Mr. Trump, or any other Republican, was kept out of the White House.
The senator fired back over the weekend, disputing the notion that he didn’t do enough on behalf of Mrs. Clinton.
“I worked as hard as I could to see that Hillary Clinton would be elected president,” Mr. Sanders told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“People say, ‘Well, not everybody who voted for Bernie ended up voting for Hillary,'” the senator continued. “No kidding. That’s what happens in politics. If my memory is correct, in 2008, something like 24 percent of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries ended up voting for John McCain.”
For her part, Mrs. Clinton did say Monday night her campaign had its own issues.
“I think I was not as adept or as to quick to figure out, OK, what is a better way for me to communicate” her policies and plans, she said.
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