Review | Huma Abedin opens up about her marriage, the 2016 election and her #MeToo moment


The initial bombshell revelation in Huma Abedin’s new memoir, “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” is that an unnamed U.S. senator allegedly made an unwanted sexual advance toward her when she was in her 20s. At the time, Abedin was an aide to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, her longtime boss and confidante.

The particulars Abedin relates matter-of-factly: Following a large dinner attended by senators and staff, Abedin found herself outside the unnamed senator’s office building. “He invited me in for coffee,” she writes. “Once inside, he told me to make myself comfortable on the couch.”

“He plopped down to my right, put his left arm around my shoulder, and kissed me, pushing his tongue into my mouth, pressing me back on the sofa. I was so utterly shocked, I pushed him away. All I wanted was for the last ten seconds to be erased.”

Abedin nearly succeeded. She says she remained “friendly” with the politician and “erased it from my mind entirely” until Christine Blasey Ford’s assault allegations during Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court 2018 confirmation hearings, when “it was suddenly triggered,” more than a decade later.

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Alas, this is not a new story when it comes to young women and powerful men in Washington or anywhere. And, really, why not name the senator instead of granting him the privilege of privacy?

“I had a blind spot about standing up for myself,” Abedin writes in a mastery of understatement. Since joining “Hillaryland” weeks after college graduation and the Clinton White House, she never craved attention. “My preferred location: the background,” she writes. And yet she struggles to remain there. Never mind the shenanigans of her now estranged husband, former New York congressman Anthony Weiner — they are now finalizing their divorce — she can’t seem to avoid the spotlight. The book puts Abedin, who is Clinton’s chief of staff, right back in it.

This is among the persistent themes of Abedin’s life, her memoir and part of its greater revelation: Her overarching efforts to be loyal, modest and supportive to her husband and others, her insistent efforts to be a backstage player to some of the nation’s most powerful players, came at her own peril — and potentially that of so many others. The memoir is candid yet soaked in denial, a cautionary tale of orthodox Good Girlism.

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Recall that during an FBI investigation into Weiner’s salacious text messages to a 15-year-old girl, emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server were discovered on his laptop, the latter revealed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in a letter to Congress days before the 2016 presidential election. This possibly cost Clinton the presidency and ushered in four years of Donald Trump.

“If she loses this election, it will because of you and me,” Abedin told Weiner.

Days after that loss, she writes, Clinton “never once indicated that she blamed me. She said that ultimately what had happened was her responsibility, and that made me feel even worse.” Abedin, in turn, blames the FBI director. “For a long time, Comey was a daily nightmare for me, and even now the thought of what he did sometimes creeps in to torture me.”

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An observant Muslim, born in the United States to a father raised in India and a mother in Pakistan, Abedin spent much of her childhood in Saudi Arabia. When she began dating Weiner, she was 30 and resolute that “I would lose my virginity to the man I would marry.” She had saved herself for Anthony Weiner, mayoral candidate, tabloid kibble, social media disaster and future convicted sex offender. Nail, meet hammer.

Many of the salacious details in the book will be familiar to anyone who saw the uncomfortable 2016 documentary “Weiner.” You’ll see Abedin once again flattened by her penchant for appeasement and denial. “Both/And” is a portrait of codependency. Abedin might have called the memoir “The Good Wife,” except it was already taken.

There was a continuous pileup of disasters, always of Weiner’s making, which began before the couple wed in 2010 with the first of many inappropriate phone missives to other women. Weiner looked to Abedin to save him: “ ‘Besides, I’m broken,’ he said, “and you need to fix me.’ ”

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The book’s most gobsmacking moment may be that the initial psychiatric insight into Weiner’s self-immolating behavior is credited to “some narcissist issues.” To which his communications adviser wisely responds, “Doesn’t that describe every politician on the planet?”

In 2012, days after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Abedin catches Weiner in the midst of a flirtatious online chat. He tells her that she is “reading way too much into it.” Instead of letting loose on her gaslighting spouse, Abedin writes that “what I mainly felt then was anger at her, at this stranger flirting with someone who had lost his entire career for having inappropriate online relationships with strangers.”

Did Abedin leave him? No, she did not.

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The following year, Weiner runs for mayor of New York. This would be the “Carlos Danger” sexting debacle. “Two epic downfalls in two years,” Abedin writes. Then, she blames herself: “I take responsibility for encouraging Anthony to run, thinking all the madness was behind us.”

Again, she stayed. This most private public servant finds herself repeatedly ensnared in public fiascos, which makes for a dramatic life story that easily fills 500 pages — and Abedin is only 45.

Over the course of this propulsive narrative (the prose is crisp, though never remarkable, like far too many political memoirs), Abedin humbly recalls details of a life that is also charmed. Ineffably beautiful, she gets mistaken for Amal Clooney. Her looks and unshakable competence, even under crushing stress, granted her a passport to places other ambitious, talented government employees rarely travel. Oscar de le Renta insists on designing Abedin’s wedding gown. She is regularly photographed in Vogue. Anna Wintour takes Abedin under her stylish wing. Much of the book, Abedin notes in the acknowledgments, was written in a cottage on Wintour’s Long Island property. The longtime government servant is welcome on the Met Gala’s red carpet with celebrities. In a Cinderella moment, a wealthy Clinton donor loans her an Armani frock to attend Trump’s third wedding. With a rare twist of the pen, Abedin observes of the Mar-a-Lago nuptials, “I felt like I was at an Arab wedding back home.”

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In 2016, during Clinton’s presidential campaign, with Abedin serving as vice chair, the New York Post publishes a lurid Weiner selfie that shows his toddler son next to him in bed. Children’s services begins to investigate whether Abedin and Weiner are fit parents. This all happens before the Comey letter.

The following year, Abedin files for divorce the day Weiner pleads guilty to exchanging illicit material with a minor. (She later withdrew the case, determined to settle out of court.) In September, Weiner is sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Abedin tells their young son his father is having his “timeout.”

A few months after Weiner’s release, after Clinton’s loss, after she had filed for divorce, the New York Post struck again with “more stories about other women.” Weiner was dating. This is what finally gutted Abedin. “Maybe this latest call was the wake-up I actually needed.”

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It was 2019, a decade after Abedin first discovered a “fawning, flirtatious, and very familiar” message on his BlackBerry, the first of so many wake-up calls that did little to wake her up seven months before their wedding.

What did Abedin do in response to the latest call? She retrieved one of Weiner’s old phones in a drawer and went “pain-shopping,” scrolling through the “love letters from Anthony to women not named Huma.”

It took her eight hours, she writes, to read them all. “When I looked up, the sun was coming in through my bedroom window. I was still in my work clothes from the day before and the tears had long dried on my cheeks.”