The leaked email behind Hillary Clinton’s mid-debate reference to Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic

Now, it’s not my favorite Spielberg…
Now, it’s not my favorite Spielberg…
Image: AP/Rick T. Wilking
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Hillary Clinton invoked American luminaries Steven Spielberg and Abraham Lincoln to get out of a tight spot in tonight’s presidential debate.

The moment came when she was asked about comments in paid speeches that have dogged her presidential campaign.

Specifically, she was asked about an excerpt of a hacked e-mail containing potentially controversial excerpts from a $225,000 paid speech she delivered to the National Multi-Housing Council in 2013, after she left public office.

In her speech to the nonprofit, she argued that politicians “need both a public and a private position” in order to accomplish anything. The debate moderators asked Clinton on behalf of a voter, ”Is it ok for politicians to be two-faced?”

Clinton responded with a review of Spielberg’s 2012 film Lincoln.

“As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie ‘Abraham Lincoln,'” she said. “It was a master class watching president Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th amendment, it was principled and strategic. I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do.”

Lincoln, as depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster, cleverly plays the political system to pass a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery.

Clinton’s takeaway is that even the greatest politicians have to make deals to get things done, sometimes in compromises that get made behind closed doors. It reflects her pragmatism, even if it’s hardly the answer one might want to hear from a potential president.

Here’s the full excerpt of the remarks from the e-mail in question, with our emphasis:

*CLINTON SAYS YOU NEED TO HAVE A PRIVATE AND PUBLIC POSITION ON POLICY* *Clinton: “But If Everybody’s Watching, You Know, All Of The Back Room Discussions And The Deals, You Know, Then People Get A Little Nervous, To Say The Least. So, You Need Both A Public And A Private Position.”* CLINTON: You just have to sort of figure out how to — getting back to that word, “balance” — how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically, and that’s not just a comment about today. That, I think, has probably been true for all of our history, and if you saw the Spielberg movie, Lincoln, and how he was maneuvering and working to get the 13th Amendment passed, and he called one of my favorite predecessors, Secretary Seward, who had been the governor and senator from New York, ran against Lincoln for president, and he told Seward, I need your help to get this done. And Seward called some of his lobbyist friends who knew how to make a deal, and they just kept going at it. I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position. And finally, I think — I believe in evidence-based decision making. I want to know what the facts are. I mean, it’s like when you guys go into some kind of a deal, you know, are you going to do that development or not, are you going to do that renovation or not, you know, you look at the numbers. You try to figure out what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. [Clinton Speech For National Multi-Housing Council, 4/24/13]

The excerpts came came from a hack of Clinton campaign chairman Jon Podesta’s email account. Wikileaks posted the hacked emails on its site just days after US national security officials confirmed that they believe Russia has launched a concerted effort to interfere in US elections through strategic leaks of confidential data.

After talking about Lincoln, Clinton reminded viewers that Russia appears to be attempting to tip the scales in Trump’s favor.