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Politifact: Mostly false that Clintons left White House "not only dead broke, but in debt"

The statement

"We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt."

Hillary Clinton, Monday in an interview on ABC

The ruling

The Clintons' time in the White House ended after December 2000, so her 2000 Senate financial disclosure form provides a rough view of the balance between the couple's assets and liabilities. These forms only show amounts in broad ranges — from $15,001 to $50,000 and so forth — but under any set of assumptions, the Clintons were in the red, a problem driven by Bill Clinton's enormous legal bills.

Their highest possible assets totaled about $1.8 million, while their lowest possible debts were nearly $2.3 million. The most optimistic scenario left them in a hole of about $500,000.

But the federal disclosure form does not include homes used for personal use and the Clintons had two. In 1999, they bought a five-bedroom home in Chappaqua, N.Y., for $1.7 million. In December 2000, just as they were leaving the White House, they bought a seven-bedroom house near Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. The price was $2.85 million.

While those homes had mortgages, which would increase the amount of the Clintons' debt, the family also had equity in them. The New York Times reported that the Clintons put $855,000 down on the Washington house. That equity would have covered the low-end debt estimate of about $500,000.

All this begs the question of whether someone who can afford to buy a $2.85 million house is "dead broke." We reached two accounting professors at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. Assistant professor Jeffrey Hoopes said it would be a stretch for how the term is commonly understood.

"Almost any president leaving office can expect tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of future earnings as a result of having been president," Hoopes said.

Professor Brian Mittendorf said a balance sheet of assets and liabilities simply doesn't paint a complete picture.

"While one can claim to be technically broke, creditors wouldn't take it as such as long as future income streams could cover the liabilities," Mittendorf said.

In December 2000, at least one large bank saw the Clintons through that lens. Citibank lent them $1.995 million to buy that house in Washington, D.C. This was a safe loan. By Feb. 5, 2001, Bill Clinton was commanding speaking fees of $125,000 or more. Also in 2001, Simon & Schuster paid Hillary Clinton $2.84 million in royalties.

By 2004, the Clintons had erased their debts and Hillary Clinton was ranked the 10th-wealthiest member of the Senate, with a net worth between $10 million and $50 million.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

Jon Greenberg, Times staff writer

Politifact: Mostly false that Clintons left White House "not only dead broke, but in debt" 06/10/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 11:00pm]
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