Eleven days before the November 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton was shocked when she learned that the FBI had reopened the investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
But instead of falling apart, a new book reveals that the presidential candidate comforted her top aide, Huma Abedin, who was sobbing because her then-husband, disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, was to blame.
“It was wrenching to watch the pain this news caused Huma,” writes the former head of communications for Clinton’s campaign, Jennifer Palmieri, in her upcoming book, Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World, out March 27. “She was distraught. Hillary and I sat with her in our cabin on the plane as Huma sobbed. ‘He is going to kill me’ was all Huma could manage to say in between sobs … I watched as Hillary hugged her and was able to help calm Huma down.”
Palmieri, who also served as the White House communications director under President Barack Obama, penned Dear Madam President to encourage other women who aspire to achieve positions of power. She writes that on the team’s flight back to New York, “Hillary insisted all of us have big ice-cream sundaes in an effort to cheer Huma up.”
The reopening of the investigation was a personal blow to the Clinton campaign because of Abedin’s marriage to Weiner.
The former congressman was already facing a number of sexting scandals when his inappropriate exchanges with a minor became the subject of an FBI investigation. On Oct. 28, 2016, news broke that then-FBI Director James Comey had released a letter to eight congressional committees announcing that the FBI had uncovered emails that appeared to be “pertinent” to the Clinton email probe on a laptop belonging to Weiner.
It took Comey and his team nine days to determine that there was no new, relevant information in the emails. No charges were filed against Clinton, but many believe the scandal played a role in her loss to Republican opponent Donald Trump.
Weiner, meanwhile was sentenced in Sept. 2017 to 21 months of federal prison for his sexually explicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.
Huma Abedin Files for Divorce from Anthony Weiner as He Pleads Guilty in Sexting Case
Palmieri wasn’t the only staffer who saw the normally calm Abedin break down. Another campaign insider told PEOPLE last year that Abedin, in subsequent days that October, also sobbed to colleagues in the Clinton campaign’s Brooklyn, New York, headquarters and said: “If this costs Hillary the election, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”
Many thought Clinton would cut ties with Abedin after Comey’s announcement, but she didn’t.
“Some people thought I should fire Huma or ‘distance myself.’ Not a chance,” Clinton wrote in her post-campaign memoir What Happened.
“She had done nothing wrong and was an invaluable member of my team,” Clinton added. “I stuck by her the same way she has always stuck by me.”
Determination and strength in times of crisis were qualities that Clinton and Abedin shared, Palmieri explains. In another section of the book, she writes that on the night of the election, Abedin received the news that Clinton wouldn’t win the presidency with a simple nod.
“Huma nods. The way we have throughout the campaign as we absorbed more bad news, processed another mountain we would have to climb,” the author writes.
She adds: “[Huma’s] stoicism is remarkable, but not surprising. Huma nods because it is all she or I know on this campaign. We never permitted ourselves any other kind of reaction to bad news. You don’t blanch, you don’t panic, you show no emotion. I can handle this. I can handle anything.”
Hillary Clinton would go on to lose the election to Donald Trump — a historic loss that shook the nation. But Clinton’s relationship with Abedin has continued. Abedin remains a top aide to the former secretary of state.
Adds Palmieri: “Men may nod stoically at bad news, too. It’s where the practice started, after all. But it is required of women. People — men and women alike — will watch for your reaction to bad news. Can she handle this? Is she tough enough?”
Dear Madam President hits bookshelves on March 27.