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Starting book tour, Clinton confronts GOP critics

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pivoting from her past toward big decisions in her future, Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's moved beyond the painful chapters in her life and is showing signs that she may wish to take on her Republican critics in the 2016 presidential race.

The former secretary of state said in an interview with ABC News that Republican inquiries into her handling of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, gave her more of an incentive to run. While she remains undecided about her political future, Clinton cited the Benghazi probe as an example of a dysfunctional Congress that she often criticizes in speeches.

"It's more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors," Clinton said emphatically, leaning forward in her chair during her interview aired Monday with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "I view this as really apart from, even a diversion from, the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world."

Clinton on Tuesday was releasing her new memoir, "Hard Choices," with a media blitz and book events around the country. The interview connected to the book's release highlighted some of the hurdles she could face if she seeks the White House again: her record as President Barack Obama's top diplomat, the turbulence of her husband's presidency and charges by Republicans that she has been insulated from the everyday problems of Americans after more than two decades in public life.

Reflecting on her failed presidential run in 2008, Clinton said her campaign did not hit its stride until after she was "badly beaten" in Iowa's leadoff caucuses, suggesting she would learn from her mistakes if she runs again.

"If I were to decide to pursue it, I would be working as hard as any underdog," Clinton said. The interview also raised Bill Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who wrote a first-person account in Vanity Fair magazine last month. Clinton said she wished Lewinsky "well" but had moved on and doesn't dwell on it.

At the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, Mrs. Clinton said her family "came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. 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."

Republicans quickly 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 it showed she would have trouble relating to average Americans.

"I think she's been out of touch with average people for a long time," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said. "Whether she was flat broke or not is not the issue. It's tone deaf to average people."

Democrats noted that the Clintons gave away $10 million after departing the White House and 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.

Republicans have challenged Clinton's record at the State Department, saying it lacked any significant accomplishment and have pointed to her handling of the Benghazi raid as a glaring weakness. Asked about the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the attack, Clinton said she "certainly would give anything on earth if this had not happened." But she said specific efforts to secure the compound were made by others. "I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions," she said.

On Russia, Clinton was asked about recent comments by President Vladimir Putin, who said in an interview that she had never been "too graceful in her statements." The former first lady said Putin was "not the first male leader who has made a sexist comment like that."

She said the Obama administration had taken steps to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions with tough sanctions but acknowledged a final agreement would be "very difficult, but it's a lot better than what we inherited."

Clinton said she wants to promote her book and help Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections this year and "then take a deep breath" and consider her options. She said as someone who once lived in the White House, she understood what it entails.

"I know what's at stake. I know how difficult it is," Clinton said. "I'm not going to have any illusions when I make the decision."

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

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