(Adds Republican reaction, employment plan)
By Gabriel Debenedetti
DENVER, June 24 (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton jumped to his wife Hillary’s defense on Tuesday, saying that the potential presidential candidate is “not out of touch,” after criticism that she mishandled media questions about their personal wealth.
Hillary Clinton told ABC News earlier this month that the couple had been “dead broke” after leaving the White House in 2001 and then drew more fire after suggesting to The Guardian newspaper last weekend that the Clintons are not “truly well off.”
“It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt,” Bill Clinton said Tuesday of the couple’s previous financial situation. He was speaking to NBC News’ David Gregory, in an interview that will air on Sunday.
Bill Clinton said his wife, a former secretary of state and likely Democratic contender for the White House in 2016, has been working to reduce poverty for as long as he has known her, and that this was reflected in her tenure in the U.S. Senate.
The Clintons’ finances have become a tricky subject for her possible White House ambitions.
Hillary Clinton, who did not grow up wealthy, has given a series of speeches that earn her up to $250,000 each since leaving the State Department in 2013. Bill Clinton also delivers lucrative speeches, and tax returns released in 2007 showed the two had earned $109 million jointly since 2001. The couple owns a pair of homes - one in Washington and one in Chappaqua, New York.
The Clintons are in Denver for a Clinton Global Initiative conference where Hillary unveiled a plan to help employ and train young people by partnering with major corporations including JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Marriott and Gap.
Hillary Clinton also announced corporate partnership plans for child development programs in low-income areas, giving her a chance to promote her work with underserved communities.
“The best thing she can do is focus on policy, because here she has a rather strong record of championing programs that would help the middle class,” said Julian Zelizer, professor of political history at Princeton University. “This is a great opportunity to champion her idea about how the corporate community can be enlisted to fight for the disadvantaged.”
Hillary Clinton is in the midst of an international publicity tour for her new memoir, “Hard Choices.”
“Hillary has portrayed herself as someone who is in line with the middle class but recent comments show just how out of touch she has become - equating giving million dollar speeches with hard work and millions in wealth with being dead broke,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
A possible rival for the Democratic nomination, Vice President Joe Biden appeared to try to draw a distinction between himself and Clinton when he said on Monday: “Don’t hold it against me that I don’t own a single stock or bond,” noting that he is listed as the “poorest man in Congress.” (Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; editing by Alistair Bell, Bernard Orr)