WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that President Joe Biden has to clean up the “disaster” that former President Donald Trump created by emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, said Biden will make clear that Russia will face consequences if there are further cyberattacks against the United States, arguing that Trump left Putin unchecked even in the wake of Russian interference in U.S. elections.
“We can’t turn back the clock,” Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about how the U.S. can’t just start over with Russia as if the Trump presidency didn’t exist. “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 four years of the Trump administration.”
Speaking as Biden met Putin on Wednesday in Geneva, Clinton warned that Americans are doing the Russian leader's work in the U.S. to sow distrust and divisiveness.
“We never thought we had to worry about domestic enemies. We never thought we had to worry about people who didn't believe in our democracy, in our Constitution, in our separation of powers, in our institutions,” Clinton said. “And sadly, what we've seen over the last four years, and particularly since our election in 2020, is that we have people within our own country who are doing Putin's work.”
She continued, “They are doing his work to sow distrust, to sow divisiveness, to give aid and comfort to those within our country who, for whatever reason, are being not only disruptive, but very dangerous.”
Clinton is familiar with the role that Putin has played in U.S. domestic politics. She lost her 2016 presidential bid to Trump, an election that U.S. officials later said Russian operatives attempted to influence through an orchestrated effort to tip public opinion against Clinton.
Clinton served as President Barack Obama's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, overseeing a U.S. policy toward Russia that sought a "reset" in relations.
She expects Biden will deliver a direct message to Putin in the wake of several high-stakes incidents of ransomware that shut down critical U.S. infrastructure.
“There will be consequences, and don't test us. And then let's make sure you understand that the United States is back,” Clinton said of what the message will be. “He [Biden] also has to also make clear that, you know, Putin’s strategy over the last four years — literally just ridiculing the United States, undermining us, allowing as well as overseeing attacks on our election structure, on our energy delivery system, on so much else — has to stop.”
Clinton said that Biden came well prepared to the summit Wednesday and has been surrounded by a strong team. She said that meeting with Putin is difficult, recounting that she had witnessed a lot of his “mansplaining” in similar meetings. The last meeting she said she had with Putin was in June 2012 with Obama at the G-20 summit in Mexico.
“He kept us waiting for 45 minutes,” she said. “It was a deliberate attempt to try to in some way, gain an upper hand. And none of that will happen now.”
The summit between Biden and Putin on Wednesday has been carefully “stage-managed,” she said, in that there was a quick handshake at the beginning, no lengthy photo opportunity and no joint news conference with the two leaders.
“Those are really strong diplomatic signals about what it is we expect,” she said. “We expect an open, you know, straightforward conversation.”