Huma Abedin Sets the Record Straight About Not Missing the White House

From a Wall Street Journal books column by Derek Blasberg headlined “Huma Abedin Sets the Record Straight”:

After promoting her memoir, Both/And, for more than a year, Huma Abedin is shocked that this is the first time she’s been asked: When was the last time you visited the White House? “Honestly, I don’t remember,” the 47-year-old political strategist says. She leans back in her chair at an outdoor cafe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, brushing back her hair as she thinks out loud. “Let’s see; I didn’t go during the Trump years,” she recalls. “I haven’t been in the Biden years.” The last time was in late 2016, at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency as she was winding down her role as the vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Does she miss it? “The short answer is that, at 20, that feeling of walking through those gates and up those stairs: It’s never going to be the same,” she says, reminiscing about the White House internship that brought her into Clinton’s orbit 26 years ago. “No, I don’t miss it.”

Both/And, which comes out in paperback on October 4, charts Abedin’s childhood in Michigan and adolescence in Saudi Arabia, where her father (a professor of American Civilization who ran the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs) died in 1993, when she was 16. It details her career working for Clinton, first in the first lady’s West Wing office, then in the U.S. Senate, the office of the Secretary of State and through her failed 2016 presidential campaign, which was rattled after the FBI opened an investigation into classified emails on the personal laptop of Abedin’s husband at the time, Anthony Weiner. It details the dissolution of Abedin’s marriage to the former New York congressman after he was caught sending lewd images via Twitter. For a story about having a husband imprisoned for sexting a minor and her boss losing a campaign for the highest office of the land, Abedin’s book is both soul crushing and surprisingly optimistic.

“Most of the book was written at the Roosevelt Cottage at Anna Wintour’s country home [in Mastic, Long Island, in 2019]. I thought it was a great gift. But what I’m realizing now is that it was her idea in the first place to write the memoir, which she mentioned to me right after the election,” Abedin says. “I was definitely procrastinating. And I was a single parent at the time, because Anthony was in prison.” (Weiner pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor, started serving a federal prison sentence in 2017 and was released in 2019.)

However, Wintour insisted she move into her guest house, enroll her son, Jordan (now 10), in a local summer camp and focus. “The first person to actually read pages was Anna. I would print and deliver it like homework. She wasn’t nitty-gritty line editing. It was framing and big-picture edits. But it was the, ‘Why is this important?’”

One of the first people to read a full draft was Clinton, who Abedin says was surprised to read how much trauma Abedin managed to keep to herself. “A lot of it was shame,” Abedin says. “I have a chapter in the book called ‘Elephant in the Room.’ It was sort of self-protection.” She describes what happened when former FBI director James Comeyannounced he was investigating Abedin’s emails on Weiner’s laptop, which was confiscated in his sexting investigation, 10 days before Election Day 2016. News broke when the entire campaign team was on a plane, leaving Abedin in tears and the presidential candidate switching to maternal mode. “Hillary was like, ‘We gotta get ice cream! Let’s get ice cream for everybody.’ ‘Cause she knows I love ice cream,” Abedin says. (The FBI closed the investigation two days before Election Day with no new findings.)

Since Abedin’s book was published in 2021, it has become a bestseller, and the rights were sold to Freebird Films (Freida Pinto’s production company), which announced Pinto would produce and play Abedin in a limited television series.

When Abedin finishes dinner, she orders a cup of decaf cappuccino. After two decades in public service and on and off the campaign trail, where she’d chug up to 15 cups of coffee per day, she’s finally monitoring her caffeine intake. “So much of what happened to me professionally felt like I was floating in a cauldron, and so much about this book is about taking control,” she says.

Here, Abedin talks to WSJ. about the joy of writing about her childhood, finding time to date and co-parenting with Weiner.

Derek Blasberg: Do you ever wonder, What if Hillary Clinton had won?

Huma Abedin: All the time—almost every day. How different the world would have been. That part of what it could have been and what it should have been is going to be something that I take to my grave.

DB: After years of you trying to stay out of headlines, your book repositioned you as a public person. How has that been to voluntarily step into the limelight?

HA: I found that when I was working for Hillary and traveling on the campaign we’d go to rallies and coffee shops and I would feel this sense of enthusiasm and—elation. I can’t think of a better word than that. I’d feel the same way when I was with Anthony when he was serving in Congress. We couldn’t walk down the street in New York City without somebody stopping him and saying thank you for fighting for us. But know what’s crazy? The irony is that now I’m in that space I’m a little ambivalent about it.

DB: You don’t appreciate the enthusiasm? Really?

HA: I don’t know that I need it for me. I love talking to people and I love hearing their stories but I don’t feel like I want the attention. I was that bride who walked down the aisle and felt like, Why is everyone looking at me?

DB: The book reminds readers you’ve devoted your entire life to public service. What is it about public service that drew you in?

HA: I was an idealist. I was 20 [when I started my career]. It’s the idea that you could change the world. I was a 21-year-old landing in Jordan for King Hussein’s funeral. I knew everything about the culture; I could translate on behalf of the delegation; there’s this feeling like you’re an ambassador. I say this to advance teams even now for Hillary: You are [a country’s] first introduction. When you leave Jordan or Morocco or London, they’re not going to say, “Huma Abedin is terrible.” They are going to say Hillary Clinton’s terrible.

DB: You liked that weight of responsibility.

HA: Maybe this is a narcissistic way of looking at it, but you do feel all-powerful. You feel like you can do something. “Let me take your card,” wherever we are and when we fly back [to Washington, D.C.] and Hillary becomes president we can do something about a person’s problem. There is a sense of possibility and change and making things happen.

DB: On the flip side of that, your career in public service put you on a public podium that ended up causing so much emotional turmoil. Was there ever a moment when you regretted not becoming a suburban lawyer or a doctor?

HA: My brother is a professor and [has a] Ph.D. My oldest sister is a medical doctor. I’m the least educated person in my family! Growing up, I wanted to be Christiane Amanpour. It’s funny because when she interviewed me for the book and I was fangirling, I said to her producer, “Is it OK if I tell her how much I love her?” And the producer was like, “Let’s just do the interview.” So, the short answer is no. I have lived an extraordinary life, I witnessed history, I’ve participated in history that I can’t even imagine. I have to take my dad’s motto: Our eyes are on the front of our head for a reason. You’ve got to move forward.

DB: You write movingly about your father, including about being there the day he died. Was there a part that stands out as particularly difficult or therapeutic to write about?

HA: Nothing about it was hard. It was a joy re-creating those moments of childhood and the magic. In part, this book is about discovering truth. One of the chapter titles is “Truth Hurts.” When I was a little girl, I didn’t know my father’s secret [about being ill with progressive renal failure].

DB: You write that he never picked you up like other dads, which you now know was because he was so weak.

HA: There were so many magical [memories]: We’re in Thailand, we’re in Paris, we’re in Vienna. The truth was they didn’t know how long he had. This is the hard part: I’m 47. He was 46 when he was diagnosed and was told he had five years to get his affairs in order. When I finished writing the book and had to record the audio version, the only paragraph I could not get through without breaking down and crying is when I share the story about my struggle with making the decision to marry Anthony and going to London and seeing my older sister and falling in her arms. Even though I was raised by a man who taught me to be strong and bold and fearless, here I was on the cusp of this big decision and I didn’t know that I could make it without him.

DB: A year ago, during your first television interview, you mentioned that you were embarking on a year of saying yes. How’d it go?

HA: I said yes to taking time for myself in a way that I never had. In my previous life, it was all about work and whatever was left over [was for personal life]. I went on a girls’ trip this summer on a girlfriend’s boat in the south of France, which I never in a million years would have done before. It would have seemed so frivolous! Towards the end of the book, I write that I have allowed myself to be open to things, meet people and take time to heal myself. I don’t feel guilty about getting a massage! This is all good therapy. And good healing.

DB: Are you dating?

HA: I put dating in the category of one of the things I did not allow myself to be open to for many years, particularly when I was living in New York in the early 2000s, when Hillary was in the Senate and it was a very glamorous time in New York. I was invited to so many dinner parties and there’d be all these women I found to be much smarter, much more beautiful, much more everything. Here I was, this serious little political aide in a suit. I never expected to be the woman that any of these men left with and I was OK with that because to allow for that kind of relationship would mean that I would have less time to work. Less time to focus.

DB: But now you’re focused on yourself, right? Is it still the year of saying yes to dating?

HA: Yes, I’m open to all kinds of saying yes!

DB: You discuss the reasons why your divorce proceedings were postponed in the book, which wasn’t because of a reconciliation, as was reported. Are you officially divorced now?

HA: It’s basically done. Yes, we’re in the final stages. We had to [postpone the court dates] for privacy and, frankly, even the idea of going back into that courthouse I found triggering. I have felt divorced for a very long time, but there are a few end-stage things we need to do [to make it official].

DB: In the book, you vividly outline many of the most difficult moments with Anthony. How do the two of you approach co-parenting now?

HA: Our son has learned some hard truths about his parents and their public lives. And the maturity with which he’s handled it—I’m really proud of him. When Anthony had to go away [to prison] and Jordan was 7, I had so much anger and resentment towards his dad. [In the book,] I talked about the idea of shame upon shame. My way of dealing was taking my son on adventures to distract him. We had six months of going to all these amazing places, like Martha’s Vineyard, Long Island, Abu Dhabi. We ended up in Hawaii for Christmas, and we met a little boy on the beach. It’s the end of a very long night. We go to dinner with his family, and the boy stands up and puts his hands up towards his father so his daddy picks him up. My little boy looks at this scene and breaks down and says, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy!” That was my lightbulb moment. That was the day I decided I would not be ashamed about where my son would have to go to see his father. I took him to see his dad [in prison], and he was giddy and was so excited. When [Weiner] was released, we made a decision that there were going to be no secrets in this family, that we would always be sources of truth for him, that we wanted him to learn from us before learning something on social media or through his friends. And somehow, as shocking as this might be, Anthony and I have found our way back to this kind of core. He was my best friend before we became anything else, and we will always have this connection because we’ll always be a family.

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