ANN ARBOR – Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed foreign policy, the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and the state of U.S. elections at the University of Michigan on Thursday afternoon at a packed Rackham Auditorium.
During the 90-minute event, titled "Reflections on Foreign Policy," Clinton offered her two cents into the current status of U.S. foreign policy and what should be done to improve both international relations and America's dwindling credibility on the world stage.
First up was the hot button issue of President Trump's removal of U.S. troops in northern Syria, leaving formerly U.S.-backed Kurds in the region vulnerable to a Turkish offensive.
Clinton asked, "If you fight for America and then you are betrayed, what does that mean?"
She emphasized that the U.S. "has a lot of repair work to do ... because we're becoming less and less relevant in the world, we are losing our leverage along with our credibility."
Clinton said the delicate situation "requires a lot of intense, intelligent diplomacy and right now we have very little of that."
The event was part of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy's new Weiser Diplomacy Center's speaker series, which included visits by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. The center was made possible with a $10 million gift in 2018 from U-M alumni Ron and Eileen Weiser.
Dean of the Ford School, Michael Barr, moderated the event. When Barr asked Clinton about Ukraine, she responded:
"The whole Ukranian scandal in the midst of the impeachment inquiry in and of itself is troubling because of what it shows about abuse of power, the use of threats and extortion by the president of the United States, withholding military aid that they so desperately need to defend themselves. So, it's an absolute appropriate scandal and it should have triggered an impeachment inquiry."
She drew comparisons to President Nixon's impeachment inquiry in 1974 -- a case she worked on as a young lawyer -- and called the current situation a "solemn, sad moment for our country." Clinton said Trump's actions remind her of Nixon's abuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress.
"The Ukraine phone call, the whistleblower report, the additional information that is now coming out, certainly in my opinion meets the definition of an impeachable offense - if it's proven," said Clinton.
Clinton took more jabs at President Trump, comparing him to Ukraine's president "who has no political experience -- he was a TV star -- sound familiar?"
When asked about how the U.S. can regain its role on the global stage, Clinton responded: "Our current president could have an epiphany."
Russian interference with the 2016 elections also took center stage during Clinton's talk after an audience member asked what the U.S. can do about it.
"Let's accept the fact that a foreign adversary used their military intelligence assets -- think about it -- to interfere with our election in the hopes of helping to elect someone who they thought would be more malleable or more favorable to their goals," she said. "Right now, we're in a real quandary because the only institution capable of stopping this is the federal government."
Clinton shared that several Democratic hopefuls have consulted her as the race to 2020 heats up.
"(I tell them): You could run the best campaign. You could be the nominee and you could lose for four factors that are not in your control."
According to Clinton, these four factors include voter suppression and purging of voters, stolen information which is subsequently weaponized, false reports on social media and foreign interference with elections.
"The Russians interfered in our elections in favor of Donald Trump and against me," said Clinton. "That's just a fact."
Clinton said all she wants is a "free, fair, transparent, honest election not interfered with by Russians or anybody else so that the choice of the American people is actually the choice of the American people," to which the audience erupted with applause.
Looking ahead to another election year that may prove as divisive as 2016, Clinton said she believes empathy and healthy debate are needed to address the country's problems.
"If you want to make a difference in people's lives, empathy is key," she said. "You can't really help people unless you relate to them. We cannot solve our problems here at home or around the world if we continue to be so divided and so mean to each other ... It doesn't mean we're going to all agree. Part of being in a democracy is we have disagreements, we have the right to disagree. We've got to start showing that democracy can work again."
The event was free and open to the public. According to university officials, all 1,080 tickets for the event were distributed.
To watch Clinton's talk, click here.
The last event of the series will take place on Nov. 21 and will feature Ambassadors Gerald Feierstein, John Limbert, Ronald Neumann and Deborah McCarthy.
To learn more about the Weiser Diplomacy Center, visit diplomacy.umich.edu.
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