"I never thought I would see what we saw where we had a president who derided our intelligence agencies, who basically dismissed the hard work of countless federal officials who took that oath to serve the United States," the former secretary of state said.
June 16, 2021

Willie Geist asked Hillary Clinton about her own experiences with Vladmir Putin.

"Madam Secretary, you had a line in 2008 after President Bush said 'I looked into the eyes of the man and I saw his soul.' You said of Putin, 'He was a KGB agent -- by definition, he does not have a soul,' " Geist said.

"That was during the 2008 campaign. You also wrote in a memo in one of your last days as secretary of state to the White House, effectively saying, 'Don't give this man the attention he craves. Don't give this man a presidential summit. If you deprive him of that oxygen, you deprive him of everything he needs and wants.' So how do you balance that, Secretary Clinton, delivering the message that needs to be delivered to this man, to Vladimir Putin, and not elevating him to the point he wants to be elevated?"

She said the problem is that Trump has already elevated him.

"Trump from the very beginning, even when he was running in 2016, basically lifted up Russia and lifted up Putin against our own country and our own president, and that behavior and that rhetoric continued. So it's difficult to say let's turn the clock back and go from where I thought we were when I left being secretary of state to today.

"The circumstances have changed. He's attacked our country with relatively few consequences. He invaded Ukraine. He now basically has troops stationed on the border in Ukraine and in the part that he occupies, posing a continuing threat to Ukraine. He has been the major partner along with Iran of Syria and the horrific treatment that we have seen over these years of the bombing and other attacks on Syrian civilians, driving millions of people out of their homes.

"We can't turn the clock back, but I think what President Biden understands is he wants to sit across the table as I have done with Putin and basically look him in the eye and say, 'Okay, let's figure out where we can work together -- climate change, these kinds of issues. Let us tell you what we are no longer going to abide, and there will be consequences. And don't test us.

" 'And then let's make sure you understand that the United States is back. We are not going to be endangered and undermined by people who, for whatever combination of reason, look to you because you're an authoritarian and they in some way liked that. They wish they were, they wish that democracy weren't so messy and difficult. You have to understand where we are today and where we intend to go.'

"I think that's what President Biden is not only prepared to do, what he's doing as we speak. So, sadly, we not only lost four years, we emboldened Putin. We gave him a green light. I never thought I would see some of what we saw during the Trump administration where we had a president who derided our intelligence agencies, who basically dismissed the hard work of, you know, countless federal officials who took that oath to serve the United States.

"So we've got to start where we are and I think that President Biden and his team understand that and that's exactly what they're doing."

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