Hillary Clinton takes aim at Matt Lauer in her new campaign memoir, What Happened, criticizing the Today show anchor for his "disappointing but predictable" grilling of her during NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" on Sept. 7, 2016

By Tierney McAfee
September 12, 2017 12:54 PM
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Hillary Clinton takes aim at Matt Lauer in her new campaign memoir, What Happened, criticizing the Today show anchor for his “disappointing but predictable” grilling of her during NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum” on Sept. 7, 2016.

The forum, which marked the first time Clinton and then-Republican nominee Donald Trump appeared on the same stage during the 2016 presidential campaign, was meant to be an informal opportunity for the candidates to discuss national security and foreign policy.

But after opening the forum with a broad question to Clinton about the most important quality in a commander in chief, moderator Lauer immediately switched gears to grill the Democratic nominee on the closed FBI investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Clinton gave what she described as her “standard answer on the emails” — “It was a mistake to have a personal account. I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it.” — and expected Lauer to move on to national security issues as promised.

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Instead, he asked her four follow-up questions about her emails, Clinton recalls in her book, out Tuesday: “Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and my thirty minutes to discuss serious foreign policy challenges was slipping away.”

Finally, Lauer pivoted to ask a question from one of the veterans NBC had picked to sit in the audience. How can I trust you, the self-described Republican and Gulf War vet asked Clinton, “when you clearly corrupted our national security?”

“Now I was ticked off. NBC knew exactly what it was doing here,” Clinton writes. “The network was treating this like an episode of The Apprentice, in which Trump stars and ratings soar. Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush. What a waste of time.”

Clinton went on to deny rumors put forth by “fake news reports” that she was so mad at Lauer that she “stormed off stage, threw a tantrum and shattered a water glass.”

But, she adds, “I can’t say I didn’t fantasize about shaking some sense into Lauer while I was out there.”

Clinton reflects in her book that it was a mistake for her to play “the political game” and remain polite during the forum.

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As Lauer went on to “soft-pedal” Trump’s interview, notably failing to challenge the now-president on his false claim that he’d opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, Clinton says she “was almost physically sick.”

Lauer’s performance that night was widely panned by critics — including The New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof, who called the event “an embarrassment to journalism” — but in Clinton’s eyes, the forum “was representative of how many in the press covered the campaign as a whole.”

In fact, Lauer wasn’t even the only NBC News anchor to peeve Clinton. After Chuck Todd criticized Clinton on Meet the Press for being “over-prepared” for her first debate against Trump on Sept. 26, 2016, Clinton was exasperated.

“I’m not sure how that’s possible — Can you be too prepared for something so important? Does Chuck ever show up for Meet the Press and just wing it?” she writes, adding that Trump, by contrast, “was perhaps the least prepared man in history.”

Clinton says she’s thought about that exchange often throughout Trump’s first 100 days as president, and “even allowed myself a little chuckle when he fumed, ‘Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.’ ”

“Can you hear my palm slapping my forehead?” Clinton continues. “Sometimes it seems like Trump didn’t even want to be president at all.”

Clinton and Lauer will come face to face again on Wednesday morning when the former secretary of state appears on the Today show.