TIME 2016 Election

Clinton Defends Paid Speeches: We Were ‘Dead Broke’

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Clinton speaks after receiving the 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 6, 2013. Susan Walsh—AP

"We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses"

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her high-dollar speaking gigs in a new interview, saying she and former President Bill Clinton needed the money after leaving the White House.

“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” she told ABC News in an interview airing Monday night. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”

As in, plural mortgages and plural houses.

It seemed like a rare slip-up by Clinton that highlighted just how wealthy she and her husband have become since leaving the White House, and an odd contrast to her recent embrace of her party’s resurgent populist wing’s worries about income inequality.

The Clintons charge roughly $200,000 apiece for speeches, along with travel expenses—four times the average American annual household income for just a few hours’ work—though Clinton argued it was better than earning more money from a single source.

The pair own at least two homes, one in Washington, D.C., and another in Chappaqua, N.Y., both purchased at the tail-end of their time in the White House. According to estimates by the real estate website Zillow, the Washington home is worth more than $5.4 million, while the Chappaqua home is worth almost $7 million.

While the former first family’s precarious financial situation in 2001 was well known, the situation was very different when Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State in early 2013. She had reported on an government financial disclosure form assets in the millions, including between $5 million and $25 million in cash—meaning she left the State Department with at least $5 million in the bank, before her speaking gigs started and before she made millions more from her new book Hard Choices. Last year CNN calculated that the former President has taken in more than $106 million on the speaking circuit since leaving office in 2001. In fact, in their first year after leaving the White House, the Clintons earned a combined $16.1 million—the bulk of it coming from the former president’s speaking and author fees.

“Bill has worked really hard—and it’s been amazing to me—he’s worked very hard,” Clinton told ABC. “First of all, we had to pay off all our debts, which was, you know, he had to make double the money because of obviously taxes and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.”

Clinton added that both she and her husband deliver a number of unpaid speeches to universities and charities each year.

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