Exclusive: Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi chapter
By: Maggie Haberman
May 30, 2014 05:07 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton offers a detailed account of the deadly attack on the American embassy in Benghazi — and a pointed rebuttal to Republican critics who’ve laced into her over the incident — in a much-anticipated chapter of her forthcoming book, “Hard Choices,” obtained by POLITICO.
“Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country,” Clinton writes in the gripping chapter, “Benghazi: Under Attack.”
Casting doubt on the motivations of congressional Republicans who have continued to investigate the attacks, including with an upcoming House select committee, Clinton continues: “I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country. Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.”
The 34-page chapter is Clinton’s most complete account to date of the attack and its aftermath. Her tone is less defensive than defiant: Clinton takes responsibility for the “horror” of the loss of life in Benghazi, but puts it in the context of “the heartbreaking human stakes of every decision we make” — and she accuses adversaries of manipulating a tragedy for partisan gain.
There has been, she writes, a “regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media,” but new information from “a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.”
The chapter appears intended, in part, to give Democrats a clear framework to respond to Republicans who have raised questions about Clinton’s role and what the Obama administration has said about the Sept. 11, 2012, killing of four Americans. The section was obtained and reviewed by POLITICO on the eve of a meeting in which members of Democratic-leaning groups will be briefed by Clinton’s team about how she addresses the attacks in the book.
And in a sign of the concerted effort to rebut the ongoing controversy in a cohesive way, Clinton’s camp has brought on former National Security Council spokesman and longtime President Barack Obama hand Tommy Vietor to assist in the response to the book, a source familiar with the plan said.
The book’s arrival comes as Clinton is considering a second presidential campaign in 2016. Pieces that have emerged ahead of the June 10 release include a section about Clinton’s late mother, the author’s note and a four-minute video featuring the former first lady talking about the book. On Thursday, conservative-leaning Fox News — which has heavily covered the Benghazi story — announced Clinton will sit down with two of its anchors for an interview during her book rollout media blitz.
Asked to comment on what Clinton hoped to achieve with the Benghazi chapter, among the most anticipated sections of her State Department retrospective, her spokesman, Nick Merrill, responded, “Until the book is released, there’s nothing to say. And once it’s released, it will speak for itself.”
The chapter is a mostly chronological retrospective of the attack interspersed with Clinton’s views. She points out that she ordered an investigation into what happened nine days after the attacks, and that she agreed with and implemented all 29 of the recommendations made by a review board.
While saying that as a former senator she respects the “oversight role that Congress is meant to play,” Clinton later adds, “Many of these same people are a broken record about unanswered questions. But there is a difference between unanswered questions and unlistened to answers.”
Clinton defends the intelligence at the time preceding the attack on the American compound in Benghazi. An anti-Islamic video that had sparked a protest at an embassy in Cairo was proved in “later investigation and reporting,” including by The New York Times, to have been “indeed a factor” in what happened in Benghazi, Clinton writes.
That point is among those that has been debated during hearings into the attacks.
“There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives,” she writes. “It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.”
Clinton addresses lingering questions about how military assets were deployed to try to rescue personnel at the besieged compound, writing that Obama “gave the order to do whatever was necessary to support our people in Libya. It was imperative that all possible resources be mobilized immediately. … When Americans are under fire, that is not an order the Commander in Chief has to give twice. Our military does everything humanly possible to save American lives — and would do more if they could. That anyone has ever suggested otherwise is something I will never understand.”
Clinton also highlights some of the findings of an Accountability Review Board investigation into the attacks, including that there had been security upgrades to the Benghazi compound but that they were “simply inadequate in an increasingly dangerous city.” She notes that Benghazi compound personnel told the review board that they felt their requests for additional security were not given adequate weight by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, a point Republicans have in the past argued does not absolve Clinton since those officials report to the secretary of state.
Clinton reiterates a point she made during congressional testimony last year: that she never saw cables requesting additional security. The cables were addressed to her as a “procedural quirk” given her position, but didn’t actually land on her desk, she writes: “That’s not how it works. It shouldn’t. And it didn’t.”
Clinton addresses claims that the investigation of the attack was rigged since she appointed some of the Accountability Review Board members and she was not interviewed. The board, she writes, “had unfettered access to anyone and anything they thought relevant to their investigation, including me if they had chosen to do so.”
She defends then-Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for describing the Benghazi attack as a “copycat’ of the video-spurred Cairo protests when she appeared on Sunday TV shows days later. Rice, Clinton writes, was relying on existing intelligence. The talking points she used were written to help members of Congress address the attacks, and the information began with and was signed off on by CIA officials. Intelligence officials didn’t know Rice would use them, Clinton writes.
The talking points have been a focus of Republican critics, who insist they stemmed from the White House as an effort to control a politically sensitive issue — a terrorist attack on the eve of Obama’s reelection.
“Susan stated what the intelligence community believed, rightly or wrongly, at the time,” Clinton writes. “That was the best she or anyone could do. Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people. There is a difference between getting something wrong, and committing wrong. A big difference that some have blurred to the point of casting those who made a mistake as intentionally deceitful.”
Clinton takes aim at people who “fixate on the question of why I didn’t go on TV that morning, as if appearing on a talk show is the equivalent of jury duty, where one has to have a compelling reason to get out of it. I don’t see appearing on Sunday-morning television as any more of a responsibility than appearing on late-night TV. Only in Washington is the definition of talking to Americans confined to 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings.”
Early on in the chapter, she describes her grief over losing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his diplomatic colleagues — “a punch in the gut,” she writes — and says she takes responsibility.
The deaths of “fearless public servants in the line of duty was a crushing blow,” Clinton writes. “As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.”
Clinton also addresses her much-seized-upon remark before a congressional committee in January 2013, when she used the phrase “what difference at this point does it make.” Republicans have claimed it betrayed Clinton’s lack of interest in getting to the bottom of the attack. Clinton writes that her words were blatantly twisted.
“In yet another example of the terrible politicization of this tragedy, many have conveniently chosen to interpret” that phrase “to mean that I was somehow minimizing the tragedy of Benghazi. Of course that’s not what I said,” she writes. “Nothing could be further from the truth. And many of those trying to make hay of it know that, but don’t care.”
She adds, “My point was simple: If someone breaks into your home and takes your family hostage, how much time are you going to spend focused on how the intruder spent his day as opposed to how best to rescue your loved ones and then prevent it from happening again?”
Clinton describes how important it was to communicate with the public and to lead her agency during and after the violence.
But she also says the details of the Benghazi attacks have been clouded “in part because of continuing turmoil in Libya. And despite the best efforts of officials from across our government … there will never be perfect clarity on everything that happened. … But that should not be confused with a lack of effort to discover the truth or to share it with the American people.”