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601: Master of Her Domain… Name

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Prologue

Ira Glass

There's this political parable about Hillary Clinton that made the rounds during the primaries this year, a parable with many layers to it. One of our contributors, Jack Hitt, wrote about this recently for the New Republic.

Jack Hitt

Elizabeth Warren is the person who tells this story. So this goes all the way back to the late 90s when Bill Clinton was still in office.

Ira Glass

Hillary Clinton was First Lady. Elizabeth Warren wasn't a senator yet. She was a law professor at Harvard.

Jack Hitt

And she had written, I think, an op-ed piece about this one bankruptcy bill. And Warren tells the story of the First Lady making contact. And they sat down. And she said, it was just amazing talking to Hillary Clinton.

Elizabeth Warren

And just the two of us. They closed the door. Mrs. Clinton sits down. We have hamburgers and french fries.

Bill Moyer

You tutor her.

Ira Glass

This is Elizabeth Warren telling the story to Bill Moyers on television in 2004. One of the problems with this bill, she explained, is that if a man went bankrupt, he would have to pay off his credit card companies and his banks before he would pay off an ex-wife or child support and alimony. She explained this to Moyers.

Elizabeth Warren

And I got to tell you, I never had a smarter student. Quick, right to the heart of it. I go over the law. It's a complex law. Went over the economics, showed her the graphs, showed her the charts. And she got it. Within 20 minutes, she could play where the rest of it would come. Well then, that will mean this part's happened. That will mean this is happening.

Jack Hitt

And she got right to the heart of it, totally understood it, and went back and convinced Bill to veto this bankruptcy bill.

Ira Glass

Warren said Bill Clinton had been planning on signing the bill. She credits Hillary with turning him around.

Jack Hitt

And that's the Hillary that we all recognize, if you've read any of the magazine bios of her that go all the way back to college, the valedictorian, the A-plus student, the woman who does her homework, figures it out, and has the best understanding. But then, Warren tells a second part to the story.

Ira Glass

This part happens just a few months after the bill is vetoed. It's 2001, Clinton is no longer the First Lady.

Jack Hitt

So this time, she's a United States senator. She's been elected. A lot of her campaign money came from Wall Street, as Warren points out when she tells this story.

Elizabeth Warren

And one of the first bills that came up after she was Senator Clinton was the bankruptcy bill. This is a bill that's like a vampire. It will not die. There's a lot of money behind it. And it--

Bill Moyer

And Bill, her husband, had vetoed.

Elizabeth Warren

Her husband had vetoed it very much at her urging.

Bill Moyer

And?

Elizabeth Warren

She voted in favor of it.

Jack Hitt

And of course, that's the Hillary that is often described as the opportunist, the woman who will do anything to keep power.

Ira Glass

The schemer.

Jack Hitt

Yeah, the captive of Wall Street.

Ira Glass

But then, there's yet another turn to the story. And that's in Hillary Clinton's version of the story. Hillary Clinton says, yes. She voted for the bill. But she did not do that to suck up to Wall Street. She says--

Jack Hitt

She had quietly lobbied to insert language that would protect the vulnerable populations that Elizabeth Warren had warned her about, like single moms.

Hillary Clinton

I took that on. And I went to the floor. And I buttonholed the Democrats and the Republicans who were leading that bill. I said, you can't do this. You--

Jack Hitt

And so, when you hear this version of the story, then you see, oh yes. Right. Well, this is the Hillary Clinton that many liberal commentators love to talk about, the really smart, sharp, the legislator, the one who understands that so many of these legal battles, these legislative battles, happen inside the parentheses of some footnote somewhere, a detail-oriented, shrewd--

Ira Glass

In this version of the story, Hillary gets to have her cake and eat it too. When she votes for the bill, it pleases Wall Street. When she adds the provision for divorced moms, it pleases her liberal base. Everybody's happy. But there is yet one last turn to the screw. In 2005, the bill comes up yet again in the Senate. It still has not become law. And this time, the protections that Clinton had fought for, for mothers and other vulnerable populations, those were not in the bill.

Jack Hitt

So there's no way out for her on this one. She has to declare her side, who she's really defending in Congress, Wall Street or these vulnerable populations that elect her to office.

Ira Glass

Mm-hm.

Jack Hitt

And what happens? Bill is in the hospital for something. And she goes to his bedside and claims that she can't be present for the vote in Congress. Essentially she goes AWOL from the decision and is not there to vote either way.

Ira Glass

She does issue a statement saying that she's against the bill. But she doesn't actually vote against the bill. It passes.

Jack Hitt

And this is the Hillary that drives a lot of people insane. Because this one seems even more Machiavellian, whatever it takes to save my skin.

Ira Glass

In his article, Jack had list the different Hillarys that we see in different stories about her. There's the A-student, the opportunist. There's the mastermind, the rat-fink, the pragmatist, the truth-twister.

Jack Hitt

Almost any story you hear about Hillary, you can kind of break down these various Hillarys in that story. We run across her in all of these variations all the time.

Ira Glass

I have to say, one of the things with Hillary is that she can seem like all of these Hillarys at once sometimes. And then, occasionally, you get a glimpse of a side of Hillary Clinton that is none of those, that doesn't fit any of the regular pictures we have of her. We have a story like that for you today. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Here's what we're going to do on today's program. We have this story about Hillary Clinton that, when I saw it, I feel like it gave me a picture of her that-- first of all, it comes from completely credible sources, FBI interviews, in fact. And it painted a very different picture from what we have all been hearing from both sides in this election.

And then, after that story, all of us here at our show all thought, OK, everybody is so tired of this election and so stressed out on the left and the right-- like, everyone is so freaked out. What's going to happen if their candidate loses? We thought, here at our show, let's just have something funny on the radio and on the internet. So we're going to have that too. Stay with us.

Act One: Server Be Served

Ira Glass

Serve or Be Served-- so Hillary Clinton's polling numbers took a dive this week, of course, after FBI Director James Comey said agents would be reviewing more of her e-mails. There are two basic stories out there about Hillary Clinton's e-mails and her decision to use a private server for her e-mails when she was Secretary of State. The Clinton version of what happened is that she made a mistake. There's nothing in those e-mails. This is her enemies making a lot of noise about nothing.

The Trump version of what happened is that she's a criminal and that she will be prosecuted, she will serve time over those e-mails and the way she's handled them. This was her using a private server to keep secrets from the American people. But I was really struck a few weeks ago reading this article on Politico. If you don't know Politico, it's a nonpartisan political news site and magazine.

And this article told a history of the e-mails that, for all the commotion about these e-mails over this past year, I had never heard this. What they did was simple. After the FBI released its summaries of the interviews that its investigators did with Hillary Clinton and State Department officials and intel experts and CIA experts and some of Clinton's closest aides, a political writer named Garrett Graff read through the 247 pages of summaries.

It's a public document. You can get a copy online yourself. But I think maybe only a handful of reporters have actually read through the entirety of it. And then, Garrett Graff put together an exhaustive and, frankly, very page-turney account of exactly what happened, according to what the FBI found.

That is, how Hillary Clinton and her aides ended up doing her e-mails this way. What were they thinking? How did this happen? How did she end up running her e-mail from a private server in the basement of her house, including e-mails with classified information on them? Garrett Graff talk to one of our producers, Sean Cole, about this. Here's Sean.

Sean Cole

Garrett Graff spent three days reading the interview summaries. He's been covering the FBI for almost a decade. And he's pored over a lot of documents like these. And his conclusion, after reading the 247 pages, is this. The way Hillary and her top aides dealt with her e-mails is indeed scandalous. It's just a totally different scandal than people thought.

Garrett Graff

I think a lot of us thought that this was done out of sophistication. That it was done out of this very advanced Machiavellian understanding of federal records laws and advanced knowledge of computer technology. But by the time the FBI got done with all of these interviews, it becomes really clear it was actually done out of technological ignorance.

Sean Cole

Garrett writes that the documents, quote, "depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried, inner circle of aides. Reading the FBI interviews," he writes," Clinton's team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover up."

So beginning at the beginning. When Hillary took over Secretary of State, she and her staff had to figure out how she would handle e-mail. Hillary had always checked her e-mail on a BlackBerry. And she requested a secure government-issued BlackBerry. But she was told she wouldn't be able to use her personal e-mail account on it. That wasn't allowed. And using government e-mail for personal stuff was discouraged.

Garrett Graff

And if you remember, one of the first things Hillary Clinton said when this scandal broke in 2015 was, well, I didn't want to carry two devices. And everyone in Washington started laughing at that. Because most officials, most people in Washington, carry two or three devices.

Sean Cole

Because there are strict prohibitions against using government phones or computers to do political campaigning. So multiple devices is normal.

Garrett Graff

But when we actually read through these documents, you can almost come away with a sense that that is actually why they did it, that Hillary seems to actually be a very persnickety technology user. She is not very comfortable with most technology, only liked to use a BlackBerry and, more specifically, only liked to use a specific type of increasingly older and more out-of-date BlackBerry.

She doesn't know how to use a desktop computer. She--

Sean Cole

Wait, wait, wait. Back up. Back up. She doesn't know how to use a desktop computer.

Garrett Graff

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, does not know how to use a desktop computer, according to multiple sources interviewed by the FBI.

Sean Cole

How is that possible?

Garrett Graff

The short answer is, I don't know. I mean, I can get not knowing how to play an X-Box or a virtual reality machine or something like that.

Sean Cole

Right.

Garrett Graff

But a desktop computer, this is literally the oldest piece of personal technology available to us today.

Sean Cole

I looked into this. It's actually the abacus. At the same time, says Garrett, you have to think about where the Clintons were at the advent of the everyday internet. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, you could count the number of websites in the dozens. Bill himself didn't really properly use the internet until 1998. They just didn't live regular lives and never would again.

When Hillary became Secretary of State, she asked one of her predecessors, Colin Powell, how he dealt with e-mail. He wrote to her, quote, "I didn't have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line--" sounds ancient-- --"so I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department's servers. I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders."

Powell advised her not to let the rules get too much in the way of communicating. But he also told her to be careful about using e-mail in general, as anything you write can become a matter of public record. He said all of this in an e-mail. He signed it, Love, Colin.

Powell has also said he used a secure government computer for classified information. Anyway, his solution-- checking e-mail on a desktop computer-- wouldn't work for Hillary Clinton because, again, she didn't know how to operate one. So her staff embarked on a series of thrown-together work arounds. They kept buying her the antiquated type of BlackBerry she preferred, the Curve 8310 with the trackball. One staffer remembers having to buy one either on Amazon or eBay around 2013, after BlackBerry stopped making them.

To complicate matters further, her office at the State Department was in a secure area where no BlackBerrys or cell phones were allowed. The worry was that spies could remotely turn them into listening devices. So the Secretary of State would leave her BlackBerry with a guard on the way in. And then, when she needed to check an e-mail, she'd get up from her desk, go get her phone, and wander around the eighth floor balcony.

One more quick word about Colin Powell. He sometimes used a personal e-mail address to do State business. He used his AOL account.

Garrett Graff

And his argument, at the time, was a personal e-mail address is basically like a home telephone line. You can make personal calls on it. And you can make business calls on it.

Sean Cole

So the Secretary of State using a private e-mail account wasn't anything new. It was frowned upon by the State Department, but it wasn't forbidden. And Garrett says, reading through the FBI files, using personal e-mail for government business was also rampant.

Garrett Graff

State Department workers regularly, across the board, across all levels of the organization, regularly relied on personal e-mail in order to be able to conduct the business that the State Department needed to do, because they were traveling or because it was night time or it was a weekend or they were overseas away from an embassy.

Sean Cole

Or for a much simpler and much more important reason-- the State Department computer network didn't work very well.

Garrett Graff

Part of what we learn in these FBI files is that that system actually wasn't compatible with the Wi-Fi that the Air Force uses--

Sean Cole

Oh my god.

Garrett Graff

--on the planes that the Secretary of State travels on. So her staff would sometimes use private e-mails just when they were sitting on the plane with Hillary Clinton. People didn't think that the printer function worked very well within the State Department's regular e-mail system. So in order to print documents, they would often just forward documents to their personal Gmail or Hotmail, because it was easier to print out of that than it was to print out of the State Department e-mail system.

Sean Cole

This is one of the big, if accidental, revelations in this investigation-- just how crappy and backwards the State Department's computer system was. It's shocking for anyone who's ever worked in a normal business.

Garrett Graff

Moxt Americans would be absolutely horrified at the state of government technology writ large. But the State Department seems to be a particularly antiquated user of technology. When Colin Powell showed up at the State Department in 2001, he was given, in his office, a laptop that still relied on a 56K modem.

Sean Cole

If you're under 25, that was a way to dial into the internet over a phone line. And a phone line that used to-- it doesn't matter.

Garrett Graff

And Colin Powell made a really big effort to try to invest in actually putting computers on people's desks across the State Department, which did not exist in 2001.

Sean Cole

People didn't have computers on their desks in the State Department in 2001?

Garrett Graff

The average State Department employee at headquarters in Washington, DC in 2001 did not have a desktop computer.

Sean Cole

Or any kind of computer. No laptop. Nothing.

Garrett Graff

And Colin Powell was indeed shocked by that. So he bought 44,000 new computers. And when he would travel the world as Secretary of State, he would always sit down in embassies when he was visiting. He would find a computer, sit down, and check his own e-mail, in part as a test to see how well the organization and the embassies overseas were actually using the computers that he was giving them.

The shame of almost all of government is that government is, in many cases, the least sophisticated technology user in American society. You see this in our nuclear missile systems, where our nuclear ICBMs in their missile silos still rely on, like, floppy disks, which the average person in America hasn't used since they played Oregon Trail in elementary school.

[LAUGHTER]

Sean Cole

So Hillary's staff decided that it would be easiest for her to use her personal e-mail account for everything, the e-mail that was governed by her own private server.

Garrett Graff

It really just doesn't seem like anyone thought that deeply about this. Just, no one was really paying attention to the big picture. Collectively, Hillary Clinton's inner circle and the State Department leadership stumbled into this set up that very few people seem to have actually given any thought to the political implications of it.

Sean Cole

Her aide, Huma Abedin, said she didn't recall any conversations about whether this was permissible. And as far as the rules for preserving e-mails under the federal laws, both Hillary and Huma told the FBI they figured any e-mails sent to an official State Department address by Hillary Clinton would be captured and preserved. They were later told, that's not how are you supposed to do it.

The main accusation against Hillary, of course, is that she set up a private server to avoid scrutiny and cover her tracks. But what the FBI investigation found was that her aides were mostly uninterested in how or where her e-mails would be preserved. Huma Abedin, who herself had an account powered by the server, told the FBI she didn't know the server existed until after Hillary left the State Department.

Cheryl Mills, who was Hillary's chief of staff at the State Department, says she wasn't even sure she knew what a server was at that point. Which brings us to those two words you hear all the time in the coverage of E-mail-Gate-- private server. That sounds shady, right? The Clintons have a private e-mail server in their basement?

Except what that means is that they had a computer that runs their e-mails, sends and receives and stores them. Lots of small businesses have an e-mail server. This American Life has one in a closet about 15 feet from where I'm sitting. And after Bill Clinton left the White House, he basically had a small office with a staff who needed e-mail accounts. So he had an e-mail server, an old Apple machine.

When you hear in the news that a server was installed in their basement just for Hillary, that's not true. A server was installed, but it was just an upgrade to the gear Bill Clinton already had for his staff. Less than a year into Hillary's tenure at the State Department, a couple of IT folks started to catch on that she was using a personal e-mail account. And there was some generalized brow-furrowing about making sure her staff was complying with the Federal Records Act, which requires all official communications be preserved.

And it was after Hillary left office in 2013 that the trouble really started. Some Russian and Ukrainian hackers found the server and tried to break into it. They didn't succeed. But Hillary's aides were spooked. And they scrambled to secure her e-mail. They decided to change her e-mail address. But then, they worried that they'd lose all the existing messages.

It had happened in the past. When Hillary was a senator, she used an AT&T e-mail account. And AT&T didn't archive old e-mails. So whenever she got a new BlackBerry, she'd lose everything. So this time, again, it's 2013. It's up to her staff to save the e-mails, not a very complicated process.

But rather than give it to an IT guy, an aide named Monica Hanley grabbed a laptop from Bill Clinton's Harlem office, brought it back to her apartment. And another staffer walked her through the steps of backing up the e-mails over the phone. She backed them up to a thumb drive too. After which, she lost the thumb drive.

Then the server was moved out of Hillary Clinton's basement to a tech management company in New Jersey, called Platte River Networks, or PRN, as the guy who originally installed it and ran it wasn't working for Clinton anymore. Monica Hanley then tried to upload all of the e-mails she had transferred onto the laptop-- five years worth-- to the new PRN server, remotely from afar. She tried this a couple of times. But it kept not working.

Garrett Graff

So she ends up just FedEx-ing the whole MacBook to one of the IT staff. And then--

Sean Cole

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. There are e-mails on a laptop that potentially have State secrets within them that are being FedExed across the country?

Garrett Graff

Yes. Although I don't think it seems clear that anyone involved actually thought that there were classified information inside of these e-mails.

Sean Cole

But there was. At the end of 2014, the State Department made a formal request to former Secretary Clinton to hand over all of her work-related e-mails. The House Committee investigating the attack in Benghazi wanted to see them. Also, the State Department just didn't have any record of her communications while in office. Hillary and her staff handed over 30,000 e-mails, printed out, which amounted to 55,000 pages, 12 bankers boxes full of messages.

Her legal team determined which ones were work-related by using search terms, like .gov and names of Hillary's staffers. When they were done, they asked Hillary, do you want us to keep the personal e-mails? She replied, I have no use for them anymore. So they got rid of them.

And this is where the narrative in the FBI interviews becomes like many other stories about Hillary Clinton, in that how you understand it depends on what you think of her. If you believe she's a sneaking, corner-cutting, conniver who does whatever she wants, this part of the story will totally convince you of that. After all, she destroys emails. But if you think she basically means well and is the focus of a seemingly endless witch hunt to pick apart every single thing she does, what she said about this in a press conference might seem entirely reasonable to you. Quote, No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.

Hillary Clinton's team ended up deleting 33,000 messages. You've probably heard this part. Then, the FBI resurrected about half of the deleted e-mails and discovered some of them were related to her time at the State Department. But FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the FBI, quote, "didn't find any evidence of evil intent and intent to obstruct justice."

In the e-mails that weren't deleted, there were 52 e-mail chains that contain information that was classified to some degree at the time there were sent. Eight of those e-mail chains contain information that was classified as Top Secret. By definition, we don't know what that information is or how damaging it might be to national security. But Garrett Graff says, a lot of times with our government, it's hard to pin down what the term "classified" even means.

Garrett Graff

The average American, when they hear "classified information," thinks that that's a black-and-white term.

Sean Cole

Right.

Garrett Graff

That's binary. It is either classified, or it is not.

Sean Cole

Right.

Garrett Graff

And the government classification system is actually much messier than that. Different corners of the government may consider different things classified. Information on one day might be unclassified but might be classified on a later day, or vice versa.

Sean Cole

Like, retroactively classified, basically.

Garrett Graff

Yeah, what in the business is called "up-classified."

Sean Cole

For instance, if something unclassified went to the National Security Council, someone there could decide to classify it. And that designation couldn't be changed back by someone downstream. And then, some information was classified, even though it's common knowledge. Under government secrecy law, Hillary and her top aides, discussing a New York Times article about the drone program-- that's considered a classified correspondence, because it's tacit admission that the drone program exists.

Which everybody knows. Because it was in the New York Times.

Garrett Graff

There's this one e-mail-- probably the most famous e-mail of all of them-- involving this condolence call to the East African nation of Malawi, where the president had just died. And the Vice President had taken over. And Hillary Clinton was supposed to call.

And it's this very innocuous e-mail. The line says, the purpose of call-- express condolences. And Hillary Clinton looks at that and says, I can't believe that that was actually classified. Like, that doesn't really make any sense to me.

Sean Cole

I've seen this e-mail. And it is confusing. It says "unclassified" at the top and a case number. And then, it says "classified" lower down. The innocuous part is marked with a C in parentheses, which means Confidential, the lowest of the three levels of classification the government uses. And then at the bottom, it says "unclassified" again.

Hillary Clinton has said she didn't know that the c in parentheses meant the paragraph was classified. Again, what you make of that depends on how you see her. Either she's lying, or she just didnt know something basic about classified materials.

On Sunday, James Comey wrote to Congress saying the FBI had finished going through a whole slew of newly discovered emails. They were on a laptop that was confiscated in the investigation of Huma Abedin's husband, Anthony Wiener. Comey said nothing in the emails changed the conclusion that the FBI came to in July. That there was no criminal intent. But that Secretary Clinton and her colleagues, quote, were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

I should mention something Garrett Graff told me a few times. He's a reporter, he said. And somewhere in the darker part of his heart, he always kind of wants to uncover some sort of wrongdoing, some juicy conspiracy. And he's almost disappointed when he doesn't. But the times that he doesn't, those turn out to be all of the times.

Garrett Graff

Well, this scandal underscores to me so much of what I have experienced in covering politics and national security for a decade. Which is, whenever you hear a government conspiracy theory, the almost universal truth is that the explanation is more likely either bureaucratic bungling or outright incompetence.

Sean Cole

In a sense, this would be the easiest and most candid way Hillary Clinton could explain herself. Please forgive me. I and my staff, we just weren't that focused on my e-mails. We didn't care very much about that. We had other things to think about. Yeah, I guess it's not surprising she doesn't explain it that way.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole is one of the producers of our program.

[MUSIC -- "CHANGE THE SUBJECT" BY THE DAN COLLINS BAND]

Act Two: Knowing What We Know

Ira Glass

Knowing What We Know-- so if you're following the news at all, you know that Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton's top aides, is married to former congressman Anthony Weiner who just this week reportedly checked himself into a sex addiction clinic. Because after two public apologies when he was caught sending pictures of his crotch to random women online, he then went on to send a crotch shot to a 15-year-old girl and allegedly had a whole online sexual relationship with that girl.

That triggered investigation. And as you probably know, his laptop and phone were seized. And then, while authorities were looking on his computer, they found e-mails between Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, and Hillary Clinton. And those e-mails, of course, are what led the FBI to investigate another round of Clinton e-mails. And that, of course, is what led to the dramatic drop in Clinton's poll numbers and, incidentally, to Donald Trump saying, thank you, Huma. Good job, Huma.

If there's one person in the world who might understand what it's like for Huma Abedin to be a public figure and a woman repeatedly paying a public price for her husband's extramarital sex life-- she's in luck-- the one person in the world who might understand this best is probably her boss, Hillary Clinton. What is it like when they talk about this?

OK, obviously, they're not going to do it over e-mail. This requires face-to-face conversation. This then is the conversation that we imagine they had last Friday. That's the day the news broke that Weiner's laptop-- because of his lap-- would change the focus and direction of the presidential election. Or should I say the presidential-- never mind. This, then, is the first conversation they have with that news hanging between them.

Huma is the first one to speak.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I-- [DEEP SIGH].

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know. (EXASPERATED) I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know. You know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

You know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

Ugh, I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

You know I know!

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

[DEEP SIGH] Who knows.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

Hm.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I knew.

Actor As Hillary Clinton

Mm. You knew!

Actor As Huma Abedin

I know. I-- I didn't--

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

I didn't know. I didn't know-- you know, I didn't know--

Actor As Hillary Clinton

I know. I know.

Actor As Huma Abedin

Thanks for the talk.

Ira Glass

Actresses Tami Sagher and Cady Huffman playing the parts of Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton. [MUSIC -- "ONLY YOU" BY YAZ]

More coming up. Cops try to catch a squirrel in an attic and other stuff that has no national importance at all that will not affect the fate of the nation in any way, stuff we have dug up from our archives to provide a break from current events, as we head into these last days before this election. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Three: Of Mice and Men

Ira Glass

And with that in mind, we have arrived at Act Three of our show. Of Mice and Men. This story is from a live show that we did on stage in New York. It's from comedian Mike Birbiglia.

Mike Birbiglia

I think that my favorite thing about being married is actually that you can share jokes with your wife or husband that are funny to you and that person and no one else other than, maybe, your cat. Because when you have a cat, your barometer for humor-- phh!-- out the window.

Last summer, my wife and I went on a trip to Massachusetts. And I called it Catsachusetts, which is not funny but, in our house, was the joke of the year. I was like, we're going to Catsachusetts! My wife is like, ahh! I was like, ahh! Our cat was like, ahh!

Everyone loves a good pun when you have a cat. And so, we drive the Catsachusetts. And when we arrive, my wife has a headache. And she asks me if I will acclimate Ivan-- that's our cat-- to the bedroom. Because you can't just put an indoor cat into a house, because he'll explode. And so, I bring in the bedroom.

But I'm so tired from the drive that I fall asleep, which is the only thing you cannot do when acclimating an indoor cat to a house. And so, I wake up an hour later. Ivan is gone. He got out. And so, now I'm running around the house. I'm like, my cat's going to explode.

I wake up my wife. I say, Clo-- her name is Jen. I say, Mr. Fantastic is gone. His name's Ivan. And Clo gave me a look that I can only describe as divorce eyes. Because before that point, I was convinced that we would be married forever. And then, once I saw the divorce eyes, I was like, oh, I guess this could end. And if it ended, it would look a lot like that.

And so, now the two of us are running around the house. I'm like, my marriage is falling apart! My cat's going to explode! And we find Ivan. But we had another major problem in the house, which is that there were mice in the house.

It was actually worse than that. Because they were parasitic mice. They have what's called toxoplasmosis, which means they have a-- yeah, you might know what this is. They have a parasite in them. And as a result, they're unafraid of cats. And they're unafraid of people.

And the way we discovered this was that my wife was watching TV. And she looked next to her. And there was a mouse. And he was watching TV also. And she sees screams! And he just looked up at her like Stuart Little, like, hey, what's going on? I don't like this show either. I don't know why all those women would want to marry that one guy.

And then, she pushed him off the couch. And he didn't even run away. He didn't even scurry, which is a verb invented for mice. He just walked into the kitchen, like a roommate. Like, fine, I'll go in the other room. I just think you're overreacting. And then, he did a confessional into the mouse cam in the kitchen.

He was like, I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to win. I was here before they came. I'll be here when they're gone. I'm a mouse.

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]

That's The Real Mouse Lives of Catsachusetts. That night, I'm sound asleep. And my wife wakes me up by grabbing my face. She says, Mo-- my name's Mike-- Mr. Fantastic found the mouse. You need to get the mouse.

And I sit up. And I say, Clo. We have a cat. We do everything for the cat. We give him food. We give him an apartment that he thinks is the world. We set aside an the area in the apartment for him to poop in that we clean more often than the area where we poop.

We have a gentleman's agreement that, in the unlikely event that a mouse should walk in that door, (MARLON BRANDO ACCENT) that he will kill that mouse. And we will never speak of that mouse again. And he will be protected.

(NORMAL VOICE) That's from Catfather.

My wife says, Mo, get the mouse. And I sit up. And I see what may be the strangest tableau I will ever witness in my entire life. Ivan's smacking the mouse. The mouse flies in the air, lands, gets up, walks back towards Ivan.

Ivan smacks the mouse! It flies in the air, lands, gets up, walks back towards Ivan. Ivan is thrilled. His toy is alive! I have a serious sleepwalking disorder. So as I'm watching this, I'm not even really sure it's happening. I'm thinking, I've had this dream before.

My wife says, Mo, get the mouse. And she hands me a cup. I sit up. I walk towards the mouse. And the mouse walks towards me. I put the cup over the mouse. I put a magazine under the cup. I take the cup into the backyard. And I put the mouse into the forest, where I can only assume that he walked into the mouth of a wolf.

And from that day forward, we have called it Mousachusetts.

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]

I want to point out something really special that happened there at the end. A few minutes ago, I prefaced the story with a Massachusetts-based pun, Catsachusetts, which we all agreed, as a group, is not funny. Just moments ago, I concluded the story with another Massachusetts-based pun that was nearly identical. And that was Mousachusetts. And we applauded. Which means, in a way, it's like we're married.

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia--

Mike Birbiglia

I do!

Ira Glass

His movie Don't Think Twice is available for pre-order on iTunes. It comes out there in a week.

[MUSIC -- "MICE!" FROM 3HREE, THE NEW MUSICAL]

Act Four: Squirrel Cop

Ira Glass

Squirrel Cop-- so we close our program today with this story from a police officer in a suburban community on the East Coast.

Police Officer

There was nothing, nothing going on. Saturday night in this village-- really quite, super cold. And this call came over for unknown animal in a house. And it was on my post. It was about five minutes away. So myself and another car were assigned the call. And we show up there. And luckily for me, it was another guy who was pretty new.

So we walk up to the door with all our stuff on, the nylon coat, the vest, the belt, the whole nine yards. And the door opens. And the guy who is behind the door-- he's about 30. I was 23 at the time. He's about 30. He looks like a broker or a lawyer. He's just really well put together, a nice guy, wearing glasses. He's wearing these, like, silk pajamas with a monogram. Got my attention.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Police Officer

And he's going, listen, I'm really sorry to bother you. Normally, I'd handle this sort of stuff on my own. But my wife really insists that I call. And so, we ask him what the problem is. He says, well, we were having kind of a romantic evening down in the living room. And we heard this scratching upstairs.

So I ran upstairs to see what it was. And it turns out it's coming from the attic. There's something up there. And it's just running around knocking a few small things over. I can't tell what it is. It could be a squirrel, a raccoon. I really don't know.

So the other cop that I was with said, well, we really don't handle that. It's not so much a police function. But we do have numbers of these private contractors who will come in. And they'll put a humane trap down. And they'll remove the animal for you. And it's really not such a big deal. But it's really not our thing.

So right as he was in the middle of saying that and getting us off the hook, the guy swings the door back. And there's his wife, who was just beautiful. She was beautiful. She was probably about 26 or 27 but just really beautiful, like, perfect skin, long blond hair, great teeth, brilliant blue eyes, a really nice smile. Just like beautiful and friendly.

If she had said, eat this broken glass, I just would have said, OK, broken glass it is. That's fine. But she seemed really nice. So I was going to be, like, Galahad. So I just threw my arm back into this guy's chest, into my partner's chest, and I said, Mark, we can handle this.

[LAUGHTER]

It'll be OK. And she was just, thank you so much. And she was really sweet. And I was, like, struck dead. So we walk inside. And she goes, I'm going to throw a pot of coffee on. And we go upstairs. We follow the man of the house upstairs. And we're underneath one of those trapdoors that goes into the attic with the staircase that folds out.

Ira Glass

Right.

Police Officer

And we do hear an animal upstairs, scratching away, just kind of scuttling around the floor. And there's definitely something up there. And it's making pretty good speed, going from one end of the roof to the other. So I reached up. And I took the trapdoor down. We unfolded the ladder.

And I have this big heavy flashlight, like, your cop flashlight, the four D-cells, the metal case, the whole thing.

Ira Glass

Right.

Police Officer

And I shine it up through the hole in there. And it's pretty black. I can see the rafters, but really nothing else around there. And I start up the ladder. Now, the guy who owned the house is standing almost directly underneath me, just to the side of the ladder, looking straight up at me. And my partner is at the base of the ladder right behind me.

So just before I stuck my head through this black hole, I just kind of paused. Like, I crunched my body up underneath. Because I'm realizing, gee, you know, I don't know where this thing is. The second we pulled down the trapdoor, all noise upstairs just ceased. So I was kind of nervous.

And I was like, well, I look like an idiot just crouched up here on the top of the ladder. So I took the flashlight. And I just popped my head up, turned the light on again. And about six inches from the front of my face was this squirrel at eye level with me, kind of reared back on its legs. And I swear, from where I was standing, it looked like Godzilla.

It just scared the heck out of me. I thought, it's a squirrel. It's going to be hiding somewhere. It's going to be terrified of me. It was six inches away from me. And it really startled me. So I kind of went, ah! and jumped back. And the flashlight slips out of my hands. And it's heavy. And it falls directly onto the nose of the guy who's looking straight up at me.

And I don't think it broke it, but it did some damage. And his nose-- his hands up to his face. Blood just started pouring out between his hands.

Ira Glass

This is the homeowner?

Police Officer

This is the homeowner. I lose my balance and fall backwards, directly onto my partner. And I just pancake him. We're both on our backs. He's on his back. I'm on his stomach on my back, scuttling around like a beetle, trying to get up in this really narrow hallway. It's a mess.

The squirrel, while we're floundering around in the hallway, jumps down the stairs-- boink, boink, boink-- lands on me and takes off down the stairs.

Ira Glass

How undignified!

Police Officer

It was terrible. It was terrible. So we're wondering, gee, where's the squirrel? An right at that second, the woman who lived there-- you hear her scream. So my partner goes, well, we found the squirrel. It's wherever she is.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Police Officer

So we go running downstairs. And the squirrel had come into the living room where they had been having their romantic evening. They had a fire going. They had pillows arranged around one corner of the couch next to the fire. And they had champagne flutes out and-- nice house, really nice. I mean, it just smelled brand new, new carpeting, new rugs, new paint. They hadn't been there for that long.

So the squirrel, when it bolted down the staircase, took off into the living room and ran underneath the couch for cover. So we run downstairs. This guy is bleeding all over the place on his carpets. His wife looks and says, what have you done to my husband? And I start going, oh, it was an accident. And I just stop in mid-sentence. What's the point? We've only been there about two minutes.

So the squirrel is underneath the couch. And my partner is going, you know, let's get out of here. This is just not going well. So I-- I'm not beaten yet. I always have another idea. So the squirrel is under this couch, which is in the middle of the room. So I have this bright idea.

Why don't we move the furniture away from one of the corners and we'll put the couch in the corner. And the squirrel will probably move along with the couch, because it's the only cover available to it. And once we get it into the corner, we'll only have two open sides of the couch to worry about. So we did that.

Ira Glass

That is so tactical!

Police Officer

Yes. Yeah, I was very proud of myself at that instant. But you know, I asked her for a box. And she says, sure, we've got boxes. We just moved in. We have nothing but boxes. She runs out to the garage. And she comes back with a box. And the box is long enough and it fits across the entire short side of the couch, where the armrest would be.

So I start sweeping underneath the couch with my nightstick, trying to move the squirrel toward the box, figuring we'll capture it and just get rid of it. And we'll be out here. And there'll be no more mayhem. So it's actually working very well. And the squirrels moving down along.

You can hear it. It's chittering. And I'm trying not to hurt it. I feel kind of-- I'm nervous about the thing. It might bite me. I don't want to hurt it really. It's just an animal.

Ira Glass

Right.

Police Officer

So I'm moving it along. And everything is going very well. And then, with about eight inches to go, I took one more swipe. And the thing just bolted out from underneath the couch. It was lined with, like, tassels. I couldn't really see under the couch. It bolted out from underneath the couch and ran directly into the fireplace, which is about three feet away.

The fireplace was directly ahead of it. And it ran into the fire--

Ira Glass

Oh my!

Police Officer

--and caught on fire and ran directly back out and directly back under the couch. (INTERVIEWER) IRA GLASS: What? Is it on fire? (SUBJECT) POLICE OFFICER: It was on fire. Yeah, the tail, the bushy fur, the whole bit. It wasn't flaming or anything. But it was smoking. And there was a little bit of fire coming off the tail. So it runs back under the couch. And the couch catches on fire in seconds, I mean, in seconds. It must have had dust under there or something else. But it just caught on fire immediately.

And my partner and I just don't even talk. We just grab the couch, heave it upside down. And now there's plenty of oxygen for the fire to really get going. And it starts up. And we're patting it out. And it's sort of getting away from us. So we grab the only thing that's really available. And those are these really nice silk pillows. And we have one in each hand, the both of us, and we're just windmilling away at this fire on the couch. And we put it out. But it's smoking terribly.

And it was just-- it was a disaster. The couch is upside down. The bottom of it is burnt. The house is filling with smoke from the couch. The squirrel, when it went under the couch in its death throes, just latched onto the bottom of the couch. It's like this smoking piece of gristle underneath the couch, latched on there with its claws. And were pounding, smearing it all over the place. And the smoke alarms are firing away.

The guy is standing with handkerchiefs and paper towels up around his nose, which is still bleeding. His pajamas are a mess. They're covered with blood, the front of them. And we finally get the fire out. And we're both completely red, sweating. Because we're dressed for, like, zero degree weather. And it's hot there by the fire. We're mortified. The house is full of smoke.

The wife just looks around and just starts to cry. She goes, what-- what have you done? What have you done to my house? You could see her just clicking things off on her fingers. OK, dead squirrel, ruined pillows, need a new couch. The walls are covered with soot. The fire alarms are going off. My husband's disfigured. And then, she really kind of just lost it.

And he was just looking at us and shaking his head like he couldn't believe that these two idiots showed up and did this to his house over nothing really. And he just goes, you know, you really haven't done anything wrong. I can't point to any one thing that you did that I have a reason to get angry about. You really haven't done anything wrong. I mean, we did call you. But I just-- I can't thank you for this.

They call for a squirrel. They end up with, like, $3,000, $4,000 worth of damage and a broken nose. And this is all within about five minutes. As it turned out, the squirrel-- it was a Pyrrhic victory for the squirrel. But the squirrel definitely won. The squirrel really kicked our ass.

Ira Glass

(LAUGHING) That is not what you want to be saying at the end of the day.

Police Officer

No, no.

Ira Glass

Could that have happened to you now 13 years later?

Police Officer

There's always a new mistake to be made. I don't think I would make that particular mistake. I mean, you make plenty of mistakes. You make plenty of mistakes. That's just part of that job. You just try not to make the same one twice. But there's such variety that, you're going to make hundreds-- you're going to make thousands of mistakes. You're going to make thousands of mistakes until you really get a handle on what you're doing.

Ira Glass

When that interview first ran on our program a long time ago, our interviewee, who asked not to be named on the radio, has now been on the force for 31 years.

[MUSIC -- "ELECTION DAY" BY NOBLE SISSLE & EUBIE BLSAKE]

Well, our staff-- Elna Baker, Elise Bergerson, Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivas, Sean Cole, Emily Condon, Whitney Dangerfield, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Kimberly Henderson, Chana Joffe-Walt, David Kestenbaum, Seth Lind, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Matt Tierney, Nancy Updike, and Julie Whitaker.

Research help today from Christopher Swatela, Benjamin Fallon, and Michelle Harris. Music help from Damian Gray.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

And just a little program note. We have all kinds of things on our website for the election, including daily election animated cartoons by Chris Ware and John Kuramoto. We've been posting a new one every day on our site. We're going to keep it going through the week of the election.

Also on our website, videos-- yes, videos-- of the songs that Leslie Odom, Jr., Neil Patrick Harris, and John Ellison Conlee did for our show, singing as, respectively, President Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and RNC Chair Reince Priebus. The videos are so wonderful if you haven't seen them, I have to say, especially the Paul Ryan, Neil Patrick Harris.

Also on our website-- I'm not done yet-- in response to listener demand on Twitter, true listener demand, we are also now offering MP3 downloads free of the three election songs. So OK, all of that-- the cartoons, the music videos, the MP3s-- at our website, thisamericanlife.org. Easy to remember name.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thank you, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he takes our show so personally, so, so personally. He has told me, he feels like it's me and the other contributors speaking directly to him, like we were there in the room.

And at the end of every episode, he turns to his radio. And he says--

Actor As Torey Malatia

Thanks for the talk.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC -- "SQUIRREL" BY THE WANT]