WASHINGTON – The State Department struggled Tuesday to explain Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's face-off with a Congolese student and suggested that the questioner's nervousness sparked the outburst with the mention of her husband's name.
Clinton snapped at the university student in Kinshasa on Monday when he asked what her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and Congo native and former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo thought about an international financial matter. Mutombo was appearing with her at the university.
"Wait. You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" Clinton asked in response. "My husband is not the secretary of state; I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday that Clinton reacted that way because of the question.
"As the question was posed to her, it was posed in a way that said, 'I want to get the views of two men, but not you, the secretary of state,'" Crowley said.
The French-speaking student later said he had meant to say President Barack Obama, according to U.S. officials traveling with Clinton. It was unclear whether that meant he misspoke or the translator erred.
"Perhaps he was nervous," Crowley said.
Asked if Clinton had any regrets about losing her cool, Crowley tried to deflect the question, saying she was not available to get her thoughts. At the time, Clinton was en route between stops during her 10-day tour in Africa, and she did not address the outburst to reporters traveling with her in the Congo.
Clinton's trip was overshadowed at the start by her husband's secret diplomatic mission to North Korea, where President Kim Il-Jung turned over two U.S. journalists who had been held after straying across the border.