ABU DHABI – There’s no easy way to tell Huma Abedin’s story. So, she’s telling it herself, bringing her voice to an international stage in the United Arab Emirates and speaking about her recently published memoir.
For more than two decades, Abedin has been the ever-loyal aide to Hillary Clinton, starting as a young intern to the First Lady in 1996 and rising to become her advisor and trusted confidante as Clinton became senator, secretary of state and, ultimately, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“I was kind of the invisible staff person behind the primary person. And I liked it,” Abedin told The Associated Press during a visit to Abu Dhabi on Monday. “I loved the work and decided after a while that a lot of other people were telling my story and I would choose to reclaim that history myself. And if I didn’t write it, somebody else would.”
For someone content to play the supporting act, she appears comfortable now stepping out into the spotlight with her memoir titled: “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds”, even if it means confronting the judgement and shame she's faced over her marriage to former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose confiscated laptop roiled Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Abedin's professional and personal life collided in 2016 when Weiner’s contact with a 15-year-old girl prompted the FBI to open an investigation because emails Clinton had sent to Abedin were found on a laptop federal agents had seized from him. He was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison over his messages to the young girl. Following his release, he is now planning to host a weekly radio show.
To tell her own story, Abedin, 46, penned a memoir just under 500 pages long. Or, as she puts it: “I vomited on paper. All of my feelings, all of my emotions, all of the ‘Why did she stay? Why did she go? Did she change the outcome of the 2016 election?’”
One review of her book in the Guardian describes reading about her courtship to Weiner, who was her first love, as “watching a horror film and screaming at the heroine not to go into the haunted house, while knowing that, of course, she will.”
Abedin, though, is quick to point out that her life has also been filled with extraordinary moments and privilege.
“I was never the smartest, prettiest, best in anything. I knew one thing, though. When I walked into the White House in 1996, I was prepared to outwork anybody and hard work got me to where I am,” she said.
Born in the United States, Abedin moved to Saudi Arabia with her Indian father and Pakistani mother as a toddler and lived there until college, visiting the U.S. during summer breaks. That experience and background made her a “novelty" in Washington's political circles, she said.
Her Muslim faith and family were what she leaned on the most during her darkest days.
“My parents very much, you know, taught us what our identity was and that was number one, you’re an American, number two, you’re a Muslim — and everything else is background music," she said. “As long as you had that grounding, as long as you had that place where you knew you could draw strength, where you knew you had a strong family to support you, everything was going to be OK.”
Abedin's interview with the AP came after she took the stage for the the inaugural Forbes 30/50 Summit. Donning an emerald-colored dress, her raven hair flowing in soft curls, her presence drew young female admirers and requests for selfies and photos.
All the while, she kept a watchful eye over her 10-year-old son with her on the trip, letting him know she would be nearby for another interview.
“When Anthony was in prison for almost two years, and I really was a single parent and did not have (my son’s) father around, I have to tell you, it was really, really hard,” she said. “I mean, there were days where I wasn’t even sure I’d get through the day.”
Abedin lost her father at a young age to illness and wants her son to grow up knowing his. She said it took hard work to get to a place where both she and Weiner are present in their son’s life, despite their separation since 2016.
“Even though his father and I are not together and will not be together, we will be in each other’s lives forever and we had to figure out how to work together,” she said.
Abedin remains Clinton's chief of staff, a role that keeps her busy.
“We are partners in crime — in adventures that is,” Abedin says oft her relationship with Clinton. Abedin is currently working on a show for Apple TV+ based on Clinton’s book with daughter, Chelsea, called “The Book of Gutsy Women”.
Abedin and Clinton shared a stage last year for the first time at a 92nd Street Y event, with Clinton supporting Abedin as she talked about her book, which is full of praise and admiration for her boss. Clinton said the FBI investigation during the final weeks of her campaign impacted the outcome of the election, which Donald Trump won. She said she felt angry and bewildered by the FBI probe, but never considered firing Abedin, despite people urging her to.
"Everybody supporting me knew this was a particularly damaging event, but why would I fire Huma? So, of course I didn’t. And wouldn’t, at all,” Clinton said.
Abedin, too, told the AP she remains unflinchingly loyal to Clinton.
“I'm lucky, you know, she’s a friend and mentor, a boss, and she’s always been there for me, and I’m always going to be there for her,” Abedin said.
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