Gerald Herbert / AP
Monday, June 9, 2014 | 2:51 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton's family was "dead broke" and saddled with legal bills when she and her husband left the White House, the former first lady said in an interview that aired Monday at the start of a high-profile book tour that could precede a 2016 presidential campaign.
"We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt," Clinton told ABC News. "We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy."
The remark evoked charges of elitism long volleyed by both parties during presidential campaigns. Republicans immediately seized on the comment, two years after their presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was dogged by accusations of being out-of-touch because of his wealth. GOP officials pointed out that Hillary Clinton received an $8 million book advance for her 2003 memoir and said the comments reflected her insulation from the daily problems of average Americans.
"I think she's been out of touch with average people for a long time," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, pointing to Clinton's estimated $200,000-per-speech speaking fees and million-dollar book advances. "Whether she was flat broke or not is not the issue. It's tone deaf to average people."
Clinton's memoir, "Hard Choices," will be released Tuesday, accompanied by interviews with ABC News and other news organizations. She will appear at book events this week in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and suburban Washington, D.C., and her appearances are already stoking a debate over her record at the State Department and as a one-time presidential candidate, New York senator and first lady.
After leaving the White House, former President Bill Clinton earned a fortune in speaking fees while Hillary Clinton represented New York in the Senate. But the couple departed the White House with large legal bills incurred during investigations into Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Hillary Clinton's Senate financial disclosure forms, filed for 2000, show assets between $781,000 and almost $1.8 million. The forms allow senators to report assets in broad ranges. The same form, however, showed that the Clintons owed between $2.3 million and $10.6 million in legal bills to four firms.
Mrs. Clinton's advance for "Living History," her 2003 memoir, was $8 million. In 2004, the Clintons paid off their legal bills, according to Senate disclosure forms. And by 2009, when Hillary Clinton was preparing to join President Barack Obama's administration as secretary of state, the Clintons' wealth was somewhere between $10 million and $50 million.
Branding an opponent as an elitist has been a common tactic for both parties in presidential campaigns. In 2004, Republican President George W. Bush's advisers sought to portray Democratic rival John Kerry — Clinton's successor as secretary of state — as a wealthy aristocrat. In 2008, Democrats took to the airwaves when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a Politico interview that he was unsure of how many homes he and his wife, Cindy McCain, owned.
In 2012, Romney was forced to repeatedly fend off charges by Democrats that he was clueless about the economic strains of many Americans. During the GOP primary campaign, Romney said he was "not concerned" about the very poor, said he knew what it felt like to worry about being "pink-slipped," and said his wife drove a "couple of Cadillacs."
Clinton's defenders noted the family has been generous to charities and some of Clinton's speeches have been delivered for free or her appearances have raised millions of dollars for philanthropic organizations.
During the 2008 campaign, Mrs. Clinton released tax forms that showed a total of $1.1 million in book proceeds went to charities between 2000 and early 2008. The reports also showed that the Clintons gave away $10 million after departing the White House. Between 2001 and 2006, $6 million of that was to the Clinton Foundation, which the former president established after his presidency.
As Clinton starts her book tour, the back-and-forth demonstrated what could be a preview of the political jousting in the next presidential campaign.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.