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Hillary Clinton tried to deflect an attack on her political donations from Wall Street bankers by saying that they stemmed from her connection, as a U.S. senator from New York, to the downtown Manhattan community devastated by the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.
“So, I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11, when we were attacked,” she said.
“Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is,” she continued. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
Her statement appeared ripped from the playbook of Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City when the 9/11 attacks took place and became legendary during his short-lived 2008 Republican presidential primary campaign for constantly invoking his role in responding to the attacks.
Clinton has received nearly $13 million in campaign dollars from “securities and investment” donors since 1999, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Her ties to Wall Street are not unusual for New York elected officials, but they have become controversial during campaign 2016, as Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, has inveighed against big banks, Wall Street and “millionaires and billionaires.”
Immediately before her comment citing 9/11, Sanders told the CBS News debate moderator John Dickerson that Clinton’s plan to regulate big banks was “not enough.” He also pressed her on whether she could receive millions of dollars from Wall Street and then effectively regulate the banks whose employees had helped finance her political career.
Clinton, the frontrunner, seemed to have finally hit her limit with Sanders’ critiques, saying to Dickerson, “Well, John, wait a minute. Wait a minute, he has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity. Let’s be frank here.”
Sanders has been one of the leading voices, both in Congress and on the campaign trail, arguing for increased financial regulatory reform, beyond the rules imposed by 2010’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. In the debate, as on the stump, Sanders called for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 law, repealed in the 1990s, which placed a strict wall between banks’ commercial operations and riskier investment ventures.
Overall, Clinton has been pushed to the left on financial issues during the campaign, thanks to Sanders’ presence in the race and that of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also has an aggressive plan to break up big banks.
But she still seems uncomfortable talking about Wall Street, and her 9/11 moment revealed that.
Clinton’s opponents pounced on her remarks.
“Deeply, deeply offensive to families–including mine–that were forever changed by that tragedy,” tweeted O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith moments after the exchange.
“@HillaryClinton, you reached a new low tonight by using 9/11 to defend your campaign donations,” tweeted the Republican National Committee chair Reince Preibus.
Clinton also was asked about her 9/11 comment later in the debate when CBS moderators shared a tweet — the debate was co-sponsored by Twitter — calling the appropriateness of her answer into question.
“I am sorry if whoever tweeted that had that impression,” Clinton said.
After the debate, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta sought to unpack her remark in the spin room.
“What she was saying was that she was proud to represent the state of New York, to help rebuild lower Manhattan, to rebuild the economy. … So when people attack her and call her “the senator from Wall Street,” they ought to remember that she was instrumental in trying to rebuild an important part of the New York economy,” he said.
Yahoo News national correspondent Hunter Walker contributed to this story.
(Cover tile photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)