Huma Abedin had to persuade Children’s Services to keep her son after husband’s sexting scandal

Jordan fell asleep beside me, and I continued to sit with him, my dress crumpled around me, the lamp still on, his picture book open in my lap, my iPhone in my hand as I began responding to the messages that had come in over the past 30 minutes.

“Can you talk?”

Anthony had quietly walked into the room. From the tone, I knew it was bad.

“The New York Post called.” Really bad.

It was late. There was simply too much going on in my world for Anthony’s problems to surface at this moment. The Democratic National Committee server being hacked; Trump publicly calling on Russia to find Hillary’s emails; warnings about Russian election interference; death threats from Islamic State. I was also planning the final two months of the campaign. On the home front, Jordan’s first day of school was the following week and I was worried I wouldn’t even be in town for it. I didn’t have the bandwidth to contend with any more problems.

Distracted and overwhelmed, I half-heartedly asked, “What is this about?” 

He opened with an apology, the admission that he didn’t entirely know what was in the story. He simply said the Post had a picture of him and that Jordan might be in it. I envisioned a photo of Anthony and Jordan out somewhere. On the ferry. On the subway. On a park bench. I inferred that he had sent some such picture to another woman. I had given up on expecting him to respect the vows of our marriage, but our child’s image being shared felt more violent than any humiliation I had faced in the past.

The stakes were already so high, almost unbearably so, and I needed help navigating how to handle the story. Around midnight, I emailed Clinton’s adviser Philippe Reines all I knew, which was essentially nothing. “Philippe, I think I have a problem,” I typed before falling into a night of fitful sleep. I knew only one thing: it wouldn’t be as bad as Anthony said. It would be worse. And it was.

A response from Philippe appeared in my inbox in the early hours: “You need to look at this picture yourself.” And so I clicked on the link Philippe sent. I wish I could take back the image that appeared but I can never erase it. There was Jordan, sleeping peacefully next to an indecent Anthony, an image shared with a stranger, or a “friend” in Anthony’s view, and now for the entire world to see. This crossed into another level of degradation, a violation of the innocence of our child. There were no more “What were you thinking?” questions left in me. It was over. 

If there was anything unforgivable in a marriage, a partnership in raising a child, this was it. It was not rage that motivated me that morning, because the word rage would not do justice to what I was feeling. I think God had put me in this perfect glass and wood-framed house for a reason, because I would have destroyed everything around me if I had been in my own home. I simmered until I thought I would explode. After checking to make sure Jordan was still asleep and closing the door to his room, I marched out to the living room, where Anthony was lying on the sofa, still fully dressed from the previous night, his eyes bloodshot, phone in his hand, no doubt having seen the article as soon as it posted. I informed him I was putting out a statement announcing our separation, to which he responded quietly: “OK.” I then told him that he needed to find another place to live when we returned to Manhattan. He would not be welcome to sleep in the apartment or spend any nights alone with our son ever again. He nodded, looking down while I screamed at him. The yelling didn’t make anyone feel better, but I did it anyway.

I went outside and got on the phone with Philippe a little after 7am, and asked him to help me with a statement. Then I steeled myself, took a few deep breaths, and dialled Hillary Clinton. She did not need this. Our campaign did not need this. She counted on me, had faith in me, and I was bringing more scandal, more shame to what should have been a laser-focused effort to close out the campaign. She said that she was glad I was finally moving on with my life. I then dialled Bari Luri, now Chelsea’s chief of staff, and emailed Bill Clinton’s team, too, apologising to them all. I knew they would face questions about this on the campaign trail.  

I thought the image might kill my mother, so I sent her an email, told her I was leaving Anthony and assured her I was fine and that Jordan would be OK. I was glad she was close by, visiting family in New Jersey, because I knew she would come to help me; but I couldn’t have her hear my voice in that moment because then she would know just how bad it was. Everyone has a limit and I had finally reached mine, ages after everyone else had gotten there. The next day, my mom, my sister, my nephews would all descend on us.

I received all sorts of messages that began with “I don’t know what to say”, because “I’m sorry” didn’t seem quite enough this time. Most people congratulated me for finally freeing myself from Anthony.

Twenty-four hours later, my family were on their way to join us, and the fundraisers were in full swing. But I had something else on my plate. New York state Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) was making their first visit to interview Anthony and me, to ensure that Jordan was “safe”. Children’s Services investigations can be triggered by calls to the agency from members of the public concerned about the wellbeing of a child. Enough people had called in to report us that Children’s Services said they had no choice but to open a case. It was a tense and uncomfortable visit. A young woman and two or three men in suits filled the chairs at the dining table and asked questions. Anthony couldn’t remember enough details to answer. When was the photo taken? Who was it sent to? Were there others? What was happening in the image? Was the child awake? I felt like I was in a bad movie where the acting was subpar and the plot made no sense.

After a few minutes, they shifted their attention to me. Did I have any prior knowledge of Anthony taking suggestive pictures in which Jordan was present? I tried not to let the anger within me distort my voice when I said of course I did not. Never, for one second, did I think Anthony would do anything to harm or expose our child. Ever. Until now. The barrage of questions continued, and in the brief silences during their note-taking, my mind could escape back to the old world I had lived in, the world of reason. I wondered why Anthony would do this now, just when we both had so much at stake in our lives. I was on the campaign of a lifetime which, if successful, would be historic. His life was finally back on track. He was in talks to anchor a television news show, write a book, launch a podcast. None of these opportunities could possibly survive the scandal. And they didn’t. 

When the investigators said they needed to interview Jordan, I became protective of him and tried to resist. The young woman, who had identified herself as the primary investigator, assured me that she would only ask him a few general questions about how he was doing, and there would be nothing that would make him uncomfortable.

It took a few excruciating minutes. I brought her upstairs and introduced her to Jordan as Mommy’s friend who wanted to say hello. Jordan was eager to tell her how much he loved to play chess, and liked watching Paw Patrol. Then she asked him what form of punishment his parents gave him if he misbehaved. My heart stopped. I was shocked at the implication in her question. “No cookies!” Jordan chirped back.

When the investigator told me she could see that our family was closely bonded, it felt like things would be OK. Then she went on to ask me if it was possible my assessment of Anthony’s parenting lacked the accuracy it would have had if I was present in the home on a regular basis, and what I heard, between the lines, made me want to ask, “You mean if I worked less?” I had been the primary breadwinner for most of my marriage, so not working was not an option. I expressed as much to her.

She nodded that she understood and kept writing her notes. 

 On the night of 24 October I returned home to find the Children’s Services investigator waiting for me. Had I considered what life would be like if Anthony went to prison, she asked. By then, it had been alleged that Anthony had sexted with a teenage girl. Each time I thought he had reached a new nadir, he shocked me by going even lower. But I must have looked blank because she then offered, as kindly as she could, “You seem perplexed.” Perplexed didn’t begin to describe it.

“I just need to get through the next 15 days,” I responded. “Just 15 days. Then I can think about things like prison.”

It may have sounded flip, but I really had no answers to this question – or to so many others. I just didn’t.