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20 years after 9/11, Hillary Clinton recalls ground zero looked "like the gates of hell"

Hillary Clinton on 9/11
Hillary Clinton on 9/11 anniversary 07:39

Saturday marks 20 years since the September 11 terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and left many more with long-term health issues.

Just about a year earlier, Hillary Clinton had been sworn in as New York's junior senator. Clinton visited ground zero in Manhattan one day after the attacks, flying in with Senator Chuck Schumer. She described to "CBS Mornings" co-host Tony Dokoupil the level of catastrophic damage she saw.

"We landed at LaGuardia, we took a helicopter, and we circled over ground zero. And I cannot imagine anything that looked more like the gates of hell. I thought I'd be prepared because I'd seen it on TV, but the TV screen contained it. And circling over it was something that I think about and will never forget," Clinton said.

The shock quickly turned into action as Clinton worked to support the first responders who ran into the buildings to save lives that day — as well as support the family members of those who had lost loved ones on 9/11.

"We had so much work to do and in a way it kept me going in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. And of course, we were concerned that there might be more attacks elsewhere in our country," said Clinton. "And really it's the people who I met, that I worked with over those years and still today... Reminded me of the heroism and determination and tenacity."

Clinton said she has interviewed some of those who she's met that have been affected by the 9/11 attacks on her podcast, "You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton."

The former secretary of state said if the country made some "smart moves" and "some not-so-smart moves" when it came to protecting Americans as well as "friends and allies and people across the globe."

"We also tried, I think, to show our spirit of resolution and resilience. And as a senator from New York working to rebuild lower Manhattan, I saw that every single day. How people picked themselves up, how people in the midst of incredible grief and loss figured out how they could keep going. So I keep almost this duality in mind," Clinton said. 

She said although the U.S. is a "really divided country" right now, she hopes the country will be reminded of what they saw on 9/11.

"But boy do I wish that we could be reminded of the courage and the resilience and the tenacity and the unity that we all experienced 20 years ago," said Clinton.  

Former CIA directors, insiders and national security experts retrace the agency's steps around 9/11 and detail the mission to hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in "Race Against Time: The CIA and 9/11." The special airs Friday, September 10 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and will be available to stream on the CBS News app and Paramount+ on September 11.

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