Bill and Hillary Clinton technically were “dead broke” when they left the White House with a pile of legal debt stemming from various administration scandals. But with the purchase of two expensive homes and their earning potential, PolitiFact ranked Hillary Clinton's recent assertion “mostly false.”
HiIlary Clinton listens before signing a copy of her new book for a wheelchair-bound woman on Tuesday June 10, 2014, at Barnes and Noble bookstore in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
During an interview with ABC News anchor Dianne Sawyer that aired this week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made what some considered her first major gaffe as a potential presidential contender for 2016.
“You have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton said. “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.”
The comment immediately prompted criticism calling the unquestionably well-off Clintons out of touch, particularly the reference to plural “houses,” one of which cost $1.7 million and the other $2.85 million
It caused enough of an uproar that Clinton later clarified her statement, saying they "have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways from many Americans" but that “we also have gone through some of the same challenges many people have.”
PolitiFact evaluated the Clintons' finances through public financial disclosure forms and news reports, reporting that "the public record shows that they possibly had more liabilities than assets, but it doesn’t show that conclusively."
“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,'" the fact checker reported. Based on Hillary Clinton's Senate financial disclosure form, after leaving the White House, “their highest possible assets totaled about $1.8 million, while their lowest possible debts were nearly $2.3 million. The most optimistic scenario left them in a hole of about $500,000.”
PolitiFact noted, “the federal disclosure form does not include homes used for personal use and the Clintons owned two.”
Before they left the White House, the Clintons purchased two homes: a $1.7 million, five-bedroom home in 1999 Chappaqua, New York, and a $2.85 million, seven-bedroom home in Washington, D.C., in December 2000.
Further, in December 2000, Citibank lent them $1.995 million to buy the Washington home. By Feb. 5, 2001, the former president was regularly earning public speaking fees of at least $125,000 per speech. Meanwhile, the former first lady and newly elected U.S. senator from New York was paid a $2.84 million by Simon and Schuster for her previous book.
By 2004, the Clintons could say they were better off than they were four years ago – at least financially. Their personal debt was erased and Hillary Clinton was ranked as the 10th-wealthiest member of the Senate, with a net worth between $10 million and $50 million, according to her Senate financial disclosure form.
PolitiFact said that “under any set of assumptions, the Clintons were in the red, a problem driven by Bill Clinton’s enormous legal bills.” It added that, “While those homes had mortgages, which would increase the amount of the Clintons' debt, the family also had equity in them.”
It cited a New York Times report that the Clintons paid $855,000 down on the Washington home.
“Point being: Clinton’s 2000 disclosure doesn’t prove the Clintons’ liabilities exceeded their assets when they left the White House,” PolitiFact reported.