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Huma Abedin on overcoming her husband Anthony Weiner's betrayals

Huma Abedin speaks out
Huma Abedin speaks out 12:22

Huma Abedin's story is as unlikely as it is extraordinary, from the pinnacles of power as a top aide to Hillary Clinton, to the depths of public scandal as the wife of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

In her first-ever television interview, she explained to "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell why she is speaking out now: "Well, I think for most of my adult life, certainly in the last 25 years that I've been in public service or in the public eye, I have been the invisible person behind the primary people in my life. But what I realize [now] is that, if you don't tell your story, somebody else is writing your history."

In new book, called "Both/And" (published by Scribner, a part of Viacom/CBS), Abedin writes about a life lived in many worlds. Born in America, she was raised in a sheltered Muslim environment in Saudi Arabia. Her mother, from Pakistan, and her father, from India, were both professors and Fulbright scholars who traveled the globe.

"We spent our entire childhood traveling to different countries and cultures and languages," Abedin said. "My father's entire perspective on the world was exploring 'the Other.'"

Abedin studied at George Washington University, and got an internship her senior year at the Clinton White House. Three weeks before she graduated, she was offered a job there.

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Huma Abedin with CBS News' Norah O'Donnell outside the White House. CBS News

She told O'Donnell, "I would walk and then just stare through those gates and look at that house."

"And think, what?"

"I can't believe I'm here."

She became an aide to Hillary Clinton, eventually her chief of staff, and it turned into a 25-year career. Abedin was by Clinton's side when she was first lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate. 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Arrives For ASEAN
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin, prior to a bilateral talk at the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations, July 22, 2010, in Hanoi. Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Images

O'Donnell asked, "So, if Hillary Clinton were here and I would ask her what does she most value about Huma Abedin, what do you think she would say?"

"I think she would say, 'Her loyalty,'" Abedin replied. "And I would say the same about her. I have tested that. Not intentionally, but I have tested it."

"How?"

"Well, I've made her life difficult with things that have happened in my personal life."

O'Donnell asked, "When you first met Anthony Weiner, what did you know about him?"

"I knew that he was on the New York Congressional delegation. He was, you know, kind of considered this outspoken, outgoing, eligible bachelor on the Hill. But I knew actually very little."

In 2007, Abedin started dating Rep. Anthony Weiner, writing that after their first kiss, her "head started spinning and didn't stop." It was her first serious relationship. As they began discussing marriage, he made a startling confession – and she made a startling discovery.

"That same night that he says to you, 'I'm broken, I need you to fix me,' you also pick up his Blackberry?" asked O'Donnell.

"Yes."

"And what did you find?"

"I found a text from a woman, a very flirtatious text, from a stranger," Abedin said. "I was shocked. And I showed it to him right away and said, 'What is this? Can you explain this to me?' And he did: he was a public personality, and that people communicated with him all the time."

But as she writes in her memoir: 

"In hindsight, it was a warning sign."

Still, they were married in 2010. Officiating at the wedding: none other than former President Bill Clinton. To Abedin (who is Muslim) and Weiner (who is Jewish), the former president joked, "If every wedding is a wonder, then this one's a miracle."

Less than a year later, Abedin was pregnant. And then, the first of many shocks: that same month, May 2011, Weiner's Twitter feed showed a picture he apparently posted of himself in his underwear.

"And he lies to you about it?" O'Donnell asked.

"He does."

"And he lies about it in multiple interviews?"

"He does."

To the press Weiner described the tweet as "a prank, a hoax."

And then, he told Abedin the truth, which turned out to be that Weiner meant to send the photo to a woman, but mistakenly sent it to his tens of thousands of Twitter followers.

On June 6, 2011, Weiner stated at a press conference, "I'm going to try to be a better husband, too." He then resigned from Congress, and entered therapy, sometimes with Abedin. Their son, Jordan, was born. The tabloids left no Weiner pun unwritten.

O'Donnell asked, "You go from being behind-the-scenes to someone who's on the front pages of newspapers here in New York City. What did it mean losing your anonymity?"

"I liked my anonymity, a lot," Abedin replied. "I don't read anything about myself. I never did."

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Huma Abedin discusses her memoir, "Both/And: My Life in Many Worlds." CBS News

But Weiner didn't think his political career was over. He decided to run for mayor of New York City, and got off to a good start, taking an early lead.

"Anthony Weiner could've been the mayor of New York City," O'Donnell said.

Abedin said, "I have to concede – I have many things to say about Anthony – but I have always believed that he is somebody who loves his city, and he's got brilliant ideas."

"Just when you think that the surprises are over, it comes out that your husband is texting again?"

"Yes."

"Using the alias Carlos Danger, with a woman whose name is Sydney Leathers, sending her explicit photos. What happens to your world?"

"Well, my world exploded again, in the most unexpected, shocking, humiliating, horrible way," Abedin replied. "We crossed a threshold. It was just surviving at that point."

But while rarely appearing on the campaign trail, Abedin did speak at a press conference. On July 23, 2013, she told reporters, "I have forgiven him. I believe in him … I made the decision. That was a decision I made for me, for our son, and for my family."

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Huma Abedin stands next to her husband, Rep. Anthony Weiner, at a July 23, 2013 press conference addressing his sexting allegations. He would later plead guilty to charges.  CBS News

O'Donnell asked, "The now-infamous press conference, and you're by his side. Were you okay?"

"Yes. Everyone was calling me and saying – people who loved me – were calling me and saying, 'Don't do this.'"

"Hillary didn't want you to do it?"

"I think if I had talked to Hillary or my mother or anybody in my family, they would've advised me against doing it," Abedin said.

"But you purposely didn't take their calls?"

"I didn't take their calls."

"There was a campaign videographer who was there a lot of moments during the campaign. It later became a documentary ("Weiner"). You look miserable throughout that campaign."

"So, I have not watched that documentary. I don't think I ever will," Abedin said.

"You look sad. You almost look a bit in shock throughout it."

"In hindsight, I was still in a tremendous amount of trauma."

Weiner was trounced, coming in last place in the mayoral primary.

Abedin said, "We were just two severely broken, traumatized people. I couldn't see that he was completely disintegrating. And we just went into our corners."

O'Donnell asked, "So, I want you to explain that, 'cause I do think that context is important. Because you're a busy working mom, because people will ask, and 'cause you just said that you crossed a threshold. But you stayed with him. Why?"

"I think in part it was a financial decision. In part it was, we moved into a duplex, and Anthony took one floor and I took another. And we were very concerned about our son, and having a stable, you know, routine for him."

"It really took a toll on your mental health?"

"It did."

"You write that for a brief second you contemplated walking off the subway platform?"

"Well, one of the best things I've had in my life is my faith, and the belief that there is always a way through," Abedin said.

Abedin reveals that she later found evidence that Weiner's affairs were apparently not just online. She discovered an old phone of his, on which, she said, "I found communications with women, and it was quite devastating."

"I know it's hard for you to say it, but you found that he was having physical relationships in your apartment?"

"Yes."

"It seems like just betrayal after betrayal after betrayal," O'Donnell said.

"It was that moment that I realized the way I had been handling my response to him was not working."

By 2016, Weiner and Abedin were officially separated.

A month after Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee for president, there was yet another bombshell: a picture of Weiner in bed with their son was leaked. That triggered an investigation by Child Protective Services.

O'Donnell said, "They're showing up at your apartment all the time, checking on the well-being of your son. Were you worried you would lose your son?"

"Yes," said Abedin. "Ask any parent what it feels like that somebody is judging whether you're a fit parent and whether you can keep your child; it's hard to put in words."

A few weeks later, Abedin's two lives truly came crashing together. Weiner was caught sexting with an underage girl; and FBI agents found emails involving Hillary Clinton on his laptop. Just 11 days before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced he was reopening an investigation into Clinton's e-mails. He would finally close the probe two days before Election Day, but many considered the damage had been done.

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Scribner

In "Both/And," Abedin writes:

"This man Weiner was going to ruin me. And now he was going to jeopardize Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency."

She then called Weiner:

"'Anthony,' I said, wanting to shake him through the phone, 'if she loses this election, it will be because of you and me.' That night I wrote one line in my notebook. 'I do not know how I am going to survive this. Help me, God.'"

It all ended, of course, with Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump. The debate over what caused her defeat, however, has never ended.

"Hillary Clinton could be in her second term as president right now," O'Donnell said.

"That is a thought that crosses my mind probably more than it crosses hers," said Abedin. "But that is something that lives here [indicating her heart] that I think I'm gonna take to my grave."

"When you say 'take it to your grave,' do you mean because you think about something you could have done to help fix the situation, make it better, because you're kind of in that fix-it role?"

"I have reconciled – and it took me a while to reconcile – that it was not all my fault. I lived with that. I did. I don't believe that anymore. It's more a sense of an ache in the heart, that it didn't have to be. And also, my belief that she would have been an extraordinary president, that she really would have, and what it meant for women and girls, not just in this country but around the world."

Five years later, Huma Abedin is still at Hillary Clinton's side, including when former President Bill Clinton was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago.

Anthony Weiner served 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor. Abedin and Weiner are finally finalizing their divorce. They still see each other as they raise their son, who is now nine years old.

"What's your relationship like now with Anthony Weiner?" asked O'Donnell.

"We are – we're good," she replied. "He is my co-parent. And I learned the full truth, I processed it and moved on. I wish him well. He, I hope, wishes me well. I think he does."

"You're not angry with him?"

"I can't live in that space anymore," Abedin said. "I tried that. It almost killed me."

     
READ AN EXCERPT: "Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds" by Huma Abedin

     
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Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

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