Former SecDef: Hillary Clinton ‘Not Involved in National Security Issues’ as First Lady

Newly revealed records undermine Clinton’s 2008 claims

Hillary Clinton
First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1995 / AP

Hillary Clinton had no role in national security matters as first lady, according to newly uncovered records, a revelation that undermines her claims on the campaign trail in 2008.

William Cohen, who served as secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton for several years, said in 2007 that Hillary Clinton "was not involved in national security issues" as first lady, according to a transcript of an interview with the defense secretary’s historical office obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Cohen, who was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1996, spoke about his experience as defense secretary during the interview, highlighting his positive relationship with the former president. When asked by interviewers whether Hillary Clinton "play[ed] any kind of part" in national security and Pentagon matters, he replied, "No, not really."

"She was not involved in national security issues," Cohen said in the transcript, which was included in the William S. Cohen papers archive housed at the University of Maine.

Clinton often cited her experience as first lady as a credential in national security and foreign policy during her failed 2008 primary campaign against Barack Obama.

Clinton was criticized by national media for exaggerating her experience at the time. The interview with Cohen backs up these criticisms.

Clinton said on the 2008 campaign trail that she had access to key decision-makers and classified information as first lady, though she had no security clearance and did not attend National Security Council meetings. She cited trips to Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, and other areas as evidence of her experience in foreign policy.

"I had direct access to all of the decision-makers. I was briefed on a range of issues, often provided classified information," Clinton told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in 2007. "And often when I traveled on behalf of our country, I traveled with representatives from the DoD, the CIA, the State Department."

Clinton came under fire when she claimed repeatedly and falsely during the 2008 campaign that she had touched down in Bosnia on March 25, 1996, "under sniper fire."

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base," Clinton said during a foreign policy address at George Washington University in 2008.

This was later proved false by video footage showing the first lady’s peaceful landing at the Tuzla Air Base, which led Clinton to admit that she "misspoke."

Cohen, a former Republican senator and congressman from Maine, did not respond to a request for comment about the 2007 interview. The Clinton campaign also did not return a request for comment.

Clinton has again made her foreign policy experience a core component of her 2016 presidential campaign, though she has largely focused on her tenure as secretary of state during the Obama administration. Some of Clinton’s moves at the State Department, however, have been viewed as liabilities, including the failed reset with Russia and the bungled military intervention in Libya.

Clinton has also been scrutinized for her use of personal email at the State Department, which came to light more than a year ago and precipitated an investigation by the FBI. The bureau did not recommend an indictment for Clinton or her aides, but investigators concluded that Clinton sent and received classified material on her personal email—contrary to her claims—and was "extremely careless" in her handling of sensitive information.

The controversy has dogged Clinton’s campaign, impacting her standing with the American public. Sixty-six percent of voters nationally do not view Clinton as honest, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.