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Machado tearfully thanks Clinton for defense against Trump’s ‘Miss Piggy’ remarks

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HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 25: Actress Alicia Machado speaks onstage during the NALIP 2016 Latino Media Awards at Dolby Theatre on June 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for NALIP)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former “Miss Universe” Alicia Machado said she cried when she heard Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton talk about her during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University Monday.

“Well, last night I was with my family, with my mom and with my daughter, we were watching the debate and you know, I was really surprised,” she said in Spanish during a phone call with reporters set up by the Clinton campaign. “And I started crying. I started crying because I never imagined that such an important person like her would care about my story, know about my story.”

Machado was referencing a moment during the debate when Clinton slammed Donald Trump’s for his past comments toward women — which has become a key campaign issue that hits on his vulnerabilities with both Hispanics and women.

“And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest — he loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them — and he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy,’ then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina,” Clinton had said.

She continued: “Donald, she has a name. Her name is Alicia Machado. And she has become a US citizen and you can bet she is going to vote this November.”

Trump, seemingly caught off-guard, repeatedly interjected: “Where did you find this?”

Clinton, according to aides, had been prepped on Machado’s story going into the debate and aimed to use it as a way to counter sexism on Trump’s part.

The Democratic nominee’s campaign quickly turned the exchange into what they hoped would be a lasting moment: They published a video about the former beauty pageant winner shortly after the debate, in addition to holding the press call.

“I lament that I could be an uncomfortable person for Mr. Trump, but that’s how things were,” Machado said in the phone call. “And I know very well what’s he’s capable of, this man. And that’s why I am fighting to make the community understand, now more than ever, that Latinos need to support the US, that we need to return all the beautiful and grand things the US has provided for us.”

When asked how the back-and-forth has played with Spanish speaking media, a Clinton aide had a one-word response: “H-U-G-E.”

On Tuesday, Trump refused to back down from his criticism of Machado, telling “Fox and Friends” in an interview on Tuesday that Machado had “gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem.”

“She was the winner and you know, she gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump said. “Not only that, her attitude, and we had a real problem with her, so Hillary went back into the years and she found this girl — this was many years ago. And found the girl and talked about her like she was Mother Theresa. And it wasn’t quite that way but that’s OK. Hillary has to do what she has to do.”

Beauty queen encouraged to lose weight

Machado competed and won the “Miss Universe” title representing Venezuela in 1996 when she was 19 years old — but then she gained nearly 60 pounds, according to a CNN report at the time.

“Some people when they have pressure eat too much. Like me. Like Alicia,” Trump said at the time. He was then executive producer of the Miss Universe Pageant.

In 1997, rumors surfaced that Machado would be forced to give up her Miss Universe crown — but Trump said he wouldn’t let it happen, according to the CNN report.

“We had a choice of: termination or do this,” he said at the time. “We wanted to do this.”

By “this,” he meant encourage her to lose weight.

Machado told Inside Edition in May that she actually gained closer to 15 pounds and that Trump called her “Miss Housekeeping,” because she is Latina, and “Miss Piggy.” It made her feel “so fat” that it made her “very depressed,” she said.

Trump told the New York Times that he pushed her to lose weight.

“To that, I will plead guilty,” he said.”

But Machado said that she was affected by the comments.

“After that episode, I was sick, had anorexia and bulimia for five years,” she said. “Over the past 20 years, I’ve gone to a lot of psychologists to combat this.”

On Monday, after the presidential debate, she tweeted in Spanish, “Thank you Mrs. Hillary Clinton your respect for women and our differences make you great! I’m with you!”

She later tweeted, “I received my passport ! I’m ready to vote For my country for you @HillaryClinton for my daughter For women workers”