Huma Abedin, once the 'invisible person behind the main person', opens up on her life with Weiner and Clinton

·9 min read

Huma Abedin had just arrived back in Washington after a fraught trip to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she got a text message from her husband.

"Nothing for you to worry about," tapped out New York Congressman Anthony Weiner late that spring night in 2011. His Twitter account had been hacked, he told his wife of less than a year, and "there might be a story."

Yes, there was. A story and a scandal that would upend Weiner's rising political career and eventually send him to prison. Unravel their marriage and leave her suffering from PTSD. And contribute to Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election.

At that moment, though, she figured he would handle it. After all, she had spent a dozen years by Clinton's side, through a thousand threats of crises or controversies. A vague report about a message that her husband denied having sent was just part of an "unending stream of incoming."

Nothing to worry about. Until it was.

After a decade of declining to comment and dodging paparazzi, Abedin told USA TODAY she is ready to take back her life. "I walked with so much shame for so long and I really wanted to take the power away from that," she said in an exclusive interview about her memoir, "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds," being published Tuesday by Scribner. "This is clearing the slate. I have nothing to hide."

Huma Abedin, author of the book, "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds." Abedin was the very close and very private top aide to Hillary Clinton and is also the divorced wife of the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. Abedin is now Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff.
Huma Abedin, author of the book, "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds." Abedin was the very close and very private top aide to Hillary Clinton and is also the divorced wife of the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. Abedin is now Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff.

In the book's 529 pages, she is unsparing about her own naivete, the depths of her husband's sexual addiction and her rage at what his actions cost. Since she was a college student who landed a White House internship and was assigned to the first lady's office, she has been behind the scenes for headliner events, first as the discreet aide and then as the humiliated spouse.

"I have been kind of the invisible person behind the main person – Hillary and then Anthony," she said. "I was somebody who's run from TV cameras and reporters her entire adult life."

That's changed.

"I do feel now that if I don't tell my story, then somebody else is writing my history," she said, adding that not seizing control of her story, and understanding what had happened, "was slowly killing me."

'When does it stop hurting?'

At 46, she looks every inch the breezy, confident New Yorker. She's wearing a brilliant red pantsuit and black heels, her dark hair tumbling down her back. She is no longer routinely accosted by waiting photographers when she leaves her apartment building. On the walk to the interview, she was no longer cornered by passersby offering an opinion, often a caustic one, about her marriage or her boss.

"When people do stop me on the street now," she said, "what they ask me is this: What do I do? Do I stay or go? When does it stop hurting?"

What she has realized, she said, "is anything that happened with me and Anthony is actually, unfortunately, not all that unusual."

As it turned out, Weiner's Twitter feed hadn't been hacked. He had sent a sexually explicit photo of himself to a woman. Indeed, he would acknowledge, he had sent explicit photos to a half-dozen women over three years. Within weeks, he had resigned from Congress. When he ran a comeback campaign for mayor of New York two years later, with Abedin's blessing, stories broke that he had continued to send explicit photos, using the alias "Carlos Danger."

The final straw for Abedin: During the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Post reported that he was sexting with yet another woman when his sleepy toddler son could be seen climbing onto the bed to cuddle with him. After that, there were reports Weiner had sexted a 15-year-old girl, a felony that would send him to prison.

Abedin threatened a divorce in 2015 but didn't file for one until 2017, and the process is not yet fully completed. She said it would be soon.

More: Anthony Weiner pleads guilty to sexting with minor; Huma Abedin files for divorce

Cover for Huma Abedin's book, "Both/And: A Life In Many Worlds"
Cover for Huma Abedin's book, "Both/And: A Life In Many Worlds"

Their relationship is complicated. He was the first man she had ever slept with, she writes, and the first one who told her he loved her. He is the father of her child, now 9. After the revelations in 2013, during his mayoral campaign, she made a public statement of support, one she knew Clinton didn't think she should make. But Abedin felt some obligation, she said, in part because she had urged him to run.

The parallels between her and Clinton are hard to miss. While there are big differences, both were accomplished women who married charismatic politicians, men whose unfaithfulness subjected their spouses to scrutiny and ridicule. Clinton chose to stand by Bill Clinton after infidelities that led to his impeachment. Abedin stood by Weiner until the evidence of his continued misbehavior convinced her that his issues were too painful for her to deal with and too deep-seated for her to solve.

Her public and private worlds collide

Then her personal crisis with Weiner intersected, disastrously, with her public role with Hillary Clinton.

When FBI agents seized Weiner's laptop during the 2016 investigation, they found emails that they thought might be related to the infamous inquiry over Clinton's emails, a case that had been closed. Less than two weeks before the election pitting Clinton against Trump for the White House, FBI Director James Comey announced he was reopening it. Days later, the FBI said nothing new or damaging against Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, was discovered.

Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton in White Plains, N.Y., on Oct. 28, 2016.
Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton in White Plains, N.Y., on Oct. 28, 2016.

But the issue had been reignited, dominating the headlines at the campaign's close.

On election night, Abedin writes that she was in Clinton's suite at the Peninsula Hotel in New York when the Associated Press called Florida for Trump. He had already won Ohio. "Can someone explain to me what is happening?" Clinton asked no one in particular. Then she said, more in shock than anger: "I'm not going to win."

The two campaigns had agreed beforehand that, once the AP had called the race, the loser would call the winner to concede. When the AP declared Trump the president-elect, and after some back and forth, Clinton told Abedin to place the call.

Abedin dialed the number of Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, put her cellphone on speaker, and held it on the palm of her hand at arm's length between her and Clinton. Neither seemed to want to get too close to it. At the other end, Conway handed her cellphone to Trump.

"You could hear a 'hello, hello,' kind of bellowing through," Abedin recalled. "It was very loud."

Clinton, usually so sure-footed, looked at the phone and then at Abedin. "What am I supposed to say?" she asked her.

"It's not like she didn't know what to say," Abedin told USA TODAY almost precisely five years later. Instead, "I experienced that as, this is her realization." This was the instant she fully understood that she had lost. That it was over."

"Say 'congratulations,' " Abedin told her.

"Donald, it's Hillary," Clinton said. "Congratulations."

Afterward, Abedin was haunted by the fear that she bore responsibility for Clinton's defeat, that Comey's announcement about Weiner's laptop was the tipping point. Clinton blamed Comey, too, among others, in the post-election book she wrote, "What Happened."

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"For a long time, Comey was a daily nightmare for me, and even now the thought of what he did sometimes creeps in to torture me," Abedin writes in the final passage of her memoir. "But I have slowly come to accept that I am not the sole cause of the 2016 election loss. One man's decision to play God forever changed the course of history. It should not be my burden to carry the rest of my life. It should be his."

Not the "sole cause." But is she one of the causes for Clinton's loss?

First, Abedin reiterated Comey's role. Then she said: "Do I think I contributed?" There is the slightest pause. "Yes," she said.

Huma Abedin, author of the book "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds." Abedin was the very close and very private top aide to Hillary Clinton and is also the divorced wife of the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. Abedin is now Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff.
Huma Abedin, author of the book "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds." Abedin was the very close and very private top aide to Hillary Clinton and is also the divorced wife of the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. Abedin is now Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff.

Both at home and an outsider

Huma Mahmood Abedin has always been "both/and," somehow simultaneously at home and an outsider in the "many worlds" she has navigated.

She was a Muslim born in the heartland, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where followers of Islam were rare. She was the daughter of two academics, both Fulbright scholars, a father from India and a mother from Pakistan, countries that were bitter rivals. She was a free-spirited American girl who grew up in Saudi Arabia, where her father was teaching, and where she and her friends would be chastised by the religious police for not keeping their heads properly covered.

In her unexpected life, she became a close aide to one of the most consequential women in American history and the wife of a politician whose soaring ambitions would catastrophically crash.

Her memoir is full of behind-the-scenes moments. In one revelation, she writes about the unwanted sexual advances of an unnamed senator. They were part of a small group that had headed out to dinner after late Senate business. Afterward, he invited her up to his apartment for coffee, and then forcibly kissed her until she pushed him away. She had forgotten about it, she writes, until skeptics accused Christine Blasey Ford of "conveniently" remembering an alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated for the Supreme Court.

Her portrayal of Clinton is sometimes personal and invariably positive. Clinton saw her as almost a second daughter; Abedin saw her as a mentor and more. But their relationship is changing. After a career that has revolved around Clinton since she was in college, Abedin now wants to do something different.

"I do not want to be Hillary Clinton's chief of staff for the rest of my life," she laughed. "What do I want to do when I grow up? The answer is, I don't know." In college, she admired CNN's Christiane Amanpour. So perhaps a journalist? Or run for office herself? She doesn't rule out either, or anything else. She hopes she is at the beginning of "a really interesting set of conversations with people about possibilities."

"I'm kind of in my year of saying yes," Abedin said, the advice famously given by renowned TV producer Shonda Rhimes to embrace life and its prospects, even the frightening ones. "I am literally right now, at this moment, doing the thing I was most scared of."

Speaking up in her own voice. Seizing control of her own life.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Huma Abedin opens up on life with Anthony Weiner, Hillary Clinton