Speaking to reporters at last, Clinton blasts Trump for Russian ties

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the media on her first flight on a new campaign plane before taking off from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the media on her first flight on a new campaign plane before taking off from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

HAMPTON, Ill. Taking questions from her traveling press corps for the first time since July, Hillary Clinton defended her handling of classified material while she was secretary of state and tied Donald Trump to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Clinton, who hasn’t had a formal press conference in 275 days, took more than 10 questions Monday afternoon from the press corps at the back of her new campaign plane. Trump has seized on her reluctance to engage with the media, calling her “Hiding Hillary” and announcing the number of days since her last press conference to his followers on social media.

Starting Monday, Clinton began allowing the reporters who cover her campaign to travel with her on a new and larger 737 jet, instead of in a separate plane. “I think it’s pretty cool, don’t you?” Clinton said about the new plane Monday morning. “I’m so happy to have you all of you with me.” Reporters laughed, and Clinton added, “No, really!” She promised she would return to talk to them “more formally” later.

Trump quickly followed suit, taking pool reporters on a leg of his plane journey Monday and answering a few questions from them.

Clinton walked to the back of the plane soon after it took off from Cleveland, brandishing a copy of her new book, “Stronger Together,” co-written with her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

She blasted Trump for his ties to Putin, saying the Russians pose a “real threat” to the U.S. electoral system, given recent news reports that they hacked into two U.S. voter databases and the Democratic National Committee email system. Clinton called the attacks “stunning” and compared them to Watergate.

“The fact that our intelligence services are now viewing Russian activity as a potential threat against our election systems raises further question about Donald Trump,” Clinton said.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine greet members of a crowd as Clinton arrives at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, after traveling from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine greet members of a crowd at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Clinton stopped short of saying Putin is directing these attacks in order to get Trump elected, saying that Trump has “generally parroted what is a Putin-Kremlin line.” But she did quote what she called “an old Arkansas saying” about the hackings. “If you find a turtle on fencepost, it didn’t get there by accident,” she said. “I think it’s quite intriguing that this activity has happened around the time that Trump became the nominee.”

Clinton also defended her handling of classified material while secretary of state, an issue that was raised again when the FBI released its summary on Friday of its investigation into her use of a private email server. The FBI decided not to recommend prosecution in the case, but the report said Clinton relied on aides not to send her classified material on her email and was unfamiliar with classification protocol.

“I went in to the State Department understanding classification,” Clinton said, citing her time on the Senate Armed Services Committee as senator. “I take classification seriously. The fact that I couldn’t remember certain meetings — whether or not they occurred — doesn’t undermine the commitment I had and still have toward the treatment of classified material.”

Slideshow: All aboard Hillary’s new plane >>>

She was also asked why her server was wiped with the software program BleachBit by an unnamed specialist a few weeks after it was first reported that she used it. “I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “That was not something I was aware of.”

Clinton was dogged by a cough on Labor Day, which she told reporters was caused by seasonal allergies. It interrupted her first speech at a rally in Cleveland for several minutes, during which she could barely get out her speech. The cough also interrupted her question-and-answer session with the press, and she returned to her seat before coming back to the press section and finishing it after the plane landed at Quad City International Airport.

A reporter asked Clinton if she was worried that Trump would use her cough to feed conspiracy theories about her health and argue she shouldn’t be president. “I’m not concerned about the conspiracy theories. There are so many of them, I’ve lost track of them,” Clinton said.

Asked if she thought the theories were sexist, Clinton let out a long “Hmm.”

“I don’t know, that’s for you guys to opine upon,” she said, before walking back to the front of the plane.

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