Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Fact-checking Hillary Clinton's 'dead broke' comment and her book

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signs her new book, "Hard Choices," June 10, 2014, in New York City.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signs her new book, "Hard Choices," June 10, 2014, in New York City.

Hillary Clinton’s new, 656-page book, Hard Choices, was making news even before it was released. During a pre-book-release interview with ABC, Diane Sawyer pressed Clinton on a reported haul of $5 million in speaking fees.

"You have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt," Clinton responded. "We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education. It was not easy. Bill has worked really hard. And it's been amazing to me. He's worked very hard."

Republicans called the claim laughable and the next day Clinton clarified, again on ABC, that she and Bill had done very well over the past 14 years.

"We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans," Clinton said. "But we also have gone through some of the same challenges many people have."

As we kicked off a spurt of fact-checking Hard Choices, we made sure to take a closer look at Clinton’s claim of being "dead broke" when their time in the White House ended after December 2000.

We found that the public record shows that the Clintons may have had more liabilities than assets, but it doesn’t show that conclusively. More important, looking at the question through a balance sheet alone does not tell the full story. Experts say the Clintons’ future earning potential had a real economic value that the financial sector traditionally acknowledges and is willing to bank on.

Indeed, a few weeks before they left the White House, the Clintons were able to muster a cash down payment of $855,000 and secure a $1.995 million mortgage. This hardly fits the common meaning of "dead broke. We rated the claim Mostly False.

Here’s our first fact-check from the book itself:

In Hard Choices, Clinton took some pride in Afghanistan’s quality-of-life improvements during her tenure as secretary of state.

"By the time I left State, the Afghans had made progress," Clinton wrote. "Economic growth was up and opium production was down. Infant mortality declined by 22 percent. Under the Taliban only 900,000 boys and no girls had been enrolled in schools. By 2010, 7.1 million students were enrolled, and nearly 40 percent of them were girls."

We found her claims about school enrollment, infant mortality, and economic growth to be basically accurate, but the data on opium production shows her claim to be somewhat exaggerated. We rated the claim Mostly True.