Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton survived relatively unscathed after 11 grueling hours of testimony on Oct. 22 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Clinton’s appearance came 17 months after Congress established the special panel to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. It followed months of wrangling over Clinton’s use of private email, which she said Thursday played a very limited role in the way she carried out her job.
Afterward, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., called the marathon proceeding a “constructive interaction,” but said he thought her testimony was similar to what she previously provided House and Senate committees.
“You can’t investigate Benghazi without talking to the secretary of state,” Gowdy told a crowd of reporters. “In terms of conclusions drawn, I don’t draw conclusions until the end, and there’s more witnesses to talk to.”
Clinton ably fended off most Republican attacks during the hearing. She spoke in slow, measured tones and avoided outbursts that plagued her previous congressional testimony. She called Republican accusations against her “very personally painful” and guessed she has “thought more about what happened than all of you put together.”
After Clinton defended her response to the attack, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked why her press release the same night cited an anti-Muslim video as a possible motive. Clinton said she never said the video “caused” the attack and blamed “the fog of war” for any misinformation: “We did the best we could with the information we had at the time.”
Jordan countered with an email Clinton sent to her daughter, Chelsea, the same night saying an al-Qaeda-like group had killed two American officials. The next day, Sept. 12, Clinton sent an email to the Egyptian prime minister: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film,” she wrote. “It was a planned attack—not a protest."
Yet two days later, Clinton personally blamed the disputed YouTube video when victims’ families received the bodies of their loved ones at Andrews Air Force Base, according to congressional testimony by a victim’s mother in 2013.
On Sept. 16, the administration dispatched Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to five Sunday talk shows, where she blamed the YouTube video for inciting the violence. Jordan said the administration wanted to misdirect the public because the Benghazi attack countered President Barack Obama’s campaign narrative that al-Qaeda was “on the run.”
During the first round of questioning, which lasted more than three hours, Republicans focused on what Clinton knew and when she knew it, starting with the administration’s decision to go into Libya and overturn dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Clinton distanced herself from an email in which she said the United States was primarily responsible for the Libyan revolution. On Thursday, she insisted the operation was an equal partnership with NATO and allies in the region.
Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., produced a stack of 795 Libya-related emails to or from Clinton in 2011, but she said there were fewer than 70 in 2012 leading up to the Sept. 11 attack. When Brooks questioned the absence of “a single email” related to an April 2012 bomb explosion at the Benghazi compound, Clinton said she did not have a computer in her office or conduct most business via email. She did not specify exactly how she learned of the 2012 bombing.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., displayed a chart showing hundreds of requests for more security from the small team in Benghazi, but Clinton said none of those reached her desk.
What did reach her desk were more than 150 emails from Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton Foundation employee who was in Libya on personal business. Emails show Clinton forwarded some of Blumenthal’s memos—often with his name redacted—but she insisted she did not ask for them.
Gowdy read a string of her emails to Blumenthal containing messages such as: “Another keeper. Keep them coming.”
“They started out unsolicited,” Clinton clarified, but “he was not advising me.”
Blumenthal’s emails played a significant role in the all-day hearing, especially since Clinton said Stevens did not have her personal email address. She said his requests for security went to the appropriate officials.
“You didn’t need my email to get my attention,” Clinton said. “Most of the work I did had nothing to do with email.”
Pompeo pressed Clinton on why she didn’t fire anyone, even after an Accountability Review Board report showed failures at multiple levels of the State Department. Clinton said there was no “dereliction of duty” that required firings.
The proceeding came amid partisan arguments over almost every element of the investigation, including its length, direction, scope, handling of classified information, and the existence of the committee itself. In the days leading up to the hearing, staffers from both parties released statements, fact-checks, and reports in an effort to frame the proceeding and its purpose.
Republicans added fuel to the rancor with multiple controversial statements, including one by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who suggested the committee’s work resulted in Clinton’s lower poll numbers. Many interpreted the statement as an implication that Republicans created the panel specifically to damage Clinton, who is the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president.
Almost every member of both parties took time during questioning to disparage the other side. Before the first break, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the panel’s top Democrat, and Gowdy erupted into an argument over interview transcripts released to the public.
Throughout the hearing, Democrats assailed Republicans for spending millions of dollars on an investigation that they said had not provided any new information. Gowdy said the committee is the first to obtain, among other things, emails from Clinton, Stevens, and Blumenthal.
Late in the hearing, Jordan noted some of Blumenthal’s emails were not included in the records Clinton turned over to the State Department, while some she did submit turned out to be personal. Jordan asked Clinton—who this month claimed to be the most transparent politician ever—if she would commit to turn over her private server to an independent third-party, such as a retired judge. She declined.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: October 26, 2015