The tense moment happened as Clinton spoke to students at a Congolese university in Kinshasa. A male student rose to ask a question about Chinese financial contracts in his country. The student asked Clinton what President Obama would think of the deal, but pool reporters in the room said the translator made a mistake and asked what Bill Clinton would think.
Clinton looked surprised when she first heard the translation in her headset, and then sharply replied, "You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am. You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to channel my husband."
At the State Department, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley said the question she heard "struck a nerve" - that her opinion on the matter was apparently of less interest than that of her husband, the former president.
Crowley told CNN her answer must be considered in the context of her African trip.
"The Secretary of State is going to Goma Tuesday, to draw attention to the plight of women who are victims of rape as a weapon of war" in Congo, he said. "She did react to what she heard," Crowley explained. Even if the interpreter mixed up the translation, he said, "you can't separate the question from the setting."
"If Africa, if Congo is going to advance, women have to play a more significant role," Crowley said. "She was in the setting of a town hall, and the questioner was interested in what two men thought, not the Secretary of State."
Crowley, who has just returned to Washington after traveling with Secretary Clinton during the first part of her trip to Africa, said the State Department has not yet reviewed recordings of the original question in French to learn whether the student clearly intended the question to refer to President Obama, not former President Clinton.
"She did talk with the student afterward, and they seemed to have reached an understanding," Crowley said.