Hillary's Failed Benghazi Spin
Stephen F. Hayes
May 30, 2014 9:10 AM
Hillary Clinton is right about Benghazi—or at least she's right about one thing.
According to a story by Maggie Haberman about the Benghazi chapter in Clinton's forthcoming book Hard Choices, the former secretary of state contends that some of her critics have badly mischaracterized the now infamous question she asked at a January 23, 2012, congressional hearing: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
She's right, they have. The question, which came in the middle of a heated back-and-forth with U.S. senator Ron Johnson, was not so much a declaration of indifference as it was an attempt to redirect the questioning from its focus on the hours before the attacks to preventing similar attacks in the future.
But beginning with her bizarre analogy to explain that question, Clinton's attempt to spin Benghazi—at least as insofar as the Politico piece represents it—is highly misleading.
Clinton writes: “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?”
That makes no sense. The hostage-taking, to use her comparison, was long over when she appeared before Congress. And the attack wasn't an act of random violence; it came as part of a long pattern of anti-American violence that had led the country into decade-long global war on jihadist terror. The motives of the attackers not only matter, they matter more than just about anything else. And one of the reasons that Obama administration critics have focused so intently on Benghazi is because the administration had spent the better part of four years ending that long campaign and downplaying the threats posed by attackers like those who participated in the assault on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi. So the Christmas Day bomber was an "isolated extremist," and the Fort Hood shooting was "workplace violence," and the attempted Times Square bombing was a "one-off attack."
To put it another way: You can't prevent it from happening again if you don't understand why it keeps happening.
So, yes, Republicans who have been doing so should stop pretending that Hillary Clinton announced her apathy with that question. But Clinton's bizarre analogy suggests not only that she doesn't understand those who simply want the truth about Benghazi, it suggests that she still doesn't understand what happened there.
According to Politico, Clinton once again attempts to hide behind the findings of the Accountability Review Board and dismisses those who have raised questions about its impartiality. The ARB, she writes, "had unfettered access to anyone and anything they thought relevant to their investigation, including me if they had chosen to do so.” It's no surprise that Clinton is concerned about the credibility of the ARB. The flawed report, produced after a flawed and incomplete investigation, has been the centerpiece of the administration's public case on Benghazi. Her defense doesn't withstand scrutiny.
That the leaders of ARB could have interviewed Clinton doesn't excuse the fact that they didn't, as Clinton implies. How is it possible to have a serious investigation of the State Department and the decisions that left the Benghazi facility so vulnerable without talking to the secretary of state? Much of the dispute about the lead up to the Benghazi attacks involves what Secretary Clinton knew—or didn't know—about the security requests made by those on the ground. But the ARB didn't even ask her about these issues.
Similarly, Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya and the top diplomat in country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed, has testified that Clinton wanted to increase the U.S. diplomatic presence in Benghazi—and that Stevens was there because Clinton wanted him there. And she's not asked about this?
Not only was Clinton not asked about this, but Hicks's testimony was left out of the final report.
There are more serious questions about objectivity of the ARB, too—though it's not clear from the Politico account whether Clinton addresses them. Admiral Mike Mullen, one of the two men Clinton hand-picked to conduct the inquiry, admitted to congressional investigators that he warned Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, that a particular witness was not going to be good for the State Department when she appeared before Congress. That witness, Charlene Lamm, was—and remains—at the center of many questions regarding facility security in Benghazi. Mullen also acknowledged that he gave a draft copy of the ARB report to Mills before it was released to the public. Hicks, who asked to see the classified version of the ARB before it was finalized, was denied that opportunity.
We are left with this: the ARB leadership was hand-picked by Hillary Clinton; the ARB leaders were tasked with holding accountable State Department officials involved in decision making on Benghazi but chose not to interview the secretary of state; the ARB report excluded important testimony from those who raised questions about the Secretary of State; the ARB leadership warned Secretary Clinton's top adviser about a potentially problematic witness; and the ARB leadership provided an advanced copy of the report to Secretary Clinton's chief of staff while denying other witnesses an opportunity even to read the report before it was released. So, yes, there are reasons to question the impartiality of the inquiry.
In her Benghazi chapter, Clinton defends the intelligence Susan Rice used in her much-discussed Sunday show appearances after the attacks. "Susan stated what the intelligence community believed, rightly or wrongly, at the time."
That's not true. Rice placed the video at the center of the administration's case on Benghazi—something the intelligence community never did. Deputy CIA director Michael Morell, who has been a loyal defender of the administration on most Benghazi-related issues, went out of his way in recent congressional testimony to make clear that the video story did not come from the CIA. In prepared testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Morell stated, without qualification: “There was no mention of the video defaming the Prophet Muhammad as a motivation for the attacks in Benghazi. In fact, there was no mention of the video at all.” Under questioning, Morell said this of Rice's Sunday show appearances: “When she talked about the video, my reaction was, that’s not something the analysts have attributed this attack to.”
If the video didn't come from the intelligence community, where did it originate? An email written by Ben Rhodes, a top White House adviser, in preparation for Rice's appearances, included this line describing one objective of her performance: "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
Is Clinton unaware of this? Or is she being dishonest?
Her next claim gives us a clue: "Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people."
That's just false. It's spectacularly, flamboyantly untrue. There are literally dozens of examples that disprove her claim. There is no chance that Clinton actually believes it. Nobody else does.