Hillary Clinton on trial for Benghazi

Image courtesy of C-SPAN

Benghazi Hearings Produce Fireworks, But No Clinton Errors

| published October 22, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Tempers flared between Republicans and Democrats during several hours of questions and answers in the GOP-led Benghazi hearings as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the special committee created to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton attempted to remain unflappable through most of the proceedings, though clearly she was frustrated with the sometimes harsh and hostile questions.

Clinton is the front-runner in the race for President, leading in most polls of Democrats, and holding her own against several leading Republicans in national polls. Her appearance before the committee comes at a critical moment in her campaign as she seeks to reclaim momentum, much of it lost in the past six months as controversy swirls around her email account and her use of a privately-crafted server during her tenure at State.

Republicans have suggested that Clinton’s use of the private email account has been a way to shroud the truth about what happened in Benghazi. Investigative reporters have dug into the issue of the emails and the server, exposing what some believe was a deliberate attempt to avoid transparency. And the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been looking into the use of the server for the possible risks it created for Clinton’s high level correspondence.

The ongoing controversy has caused Clinton’s presidential campaign serious grief over time, and inhibited her ability to stay focused on her campaign message. It was also damaging her in the polls.

But Clinton has fought her way back from playing defense over the last few weeks, starting with a particularly strong performance during the first major Democratic debate, held earlier in October and televised by CNN. Clinton has generally been declared the winner of that contest, though Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also walked away with a surge in support in the hours and days after the conclusion of the debate. This week, amidst swirling rumors and constant chatter, Clinton’s only potential mainstream rival, Vice-President Joe Biden, told reporters that he would not seek the Democratic nomination, in effect clearing the path for Clinton to battle Sanders in what has become a two-candidate race. Biden’s move capped off ten or more days of good news for Clinton.

The former Secretary of State has spent the last five days with her top staff and advisors as she prepared for the hearings.

Clinton read from a prepared text at the beginning of Thursday’s hearings, and included praise for U.S. diplomats and State Department employees who work in dangerous locations. She also declared the consulate staff and the military personnel who died during those attacks as heroes, but she quickly turned her aim toward Republicans on the special committee, declaring that although the Benghazi attacks were a disaster, the events surrounding the attacks have been thoroughly analyzed and investigated. Translation: the committee is wasting time with more questions about what happened in Libya in 2012.

Though Clinton sought to remain cool and aloof during the often intense fire from the GOP members of the committee, bitter sparring broke out between Democrats and Republicans on the panel. Democrats on the committee called the Benghazi investigations a staged partisan attack, with the senior Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland angrily denouncing the process as a forum for the exploration of conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated rumors.

There was also a round of fireworks when Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio accused Clinton of being the party responsible for promoting the theory—reported in the media initially—that the attacks in Benghazi came as a direct result of street-level anger at the internet promotion of a movie trailer for an anti-Muslim movie still under production. The film trailer contained images insulting to the prophet Muhammad.

Clinton denied that she had ever subscribed to that theory of how the attack started, and said only that “some” analysts in government had considered the internet video and the film trailer the key spark which triggered the attacks. Only after a few days was it clear that the attack on the consulate was in fact conducted by an organized army of militants.

Clinton said that there was no central motivation for the attacks, and blamed the confusion which occurred on inadequate intelligence and sometime contradictory threads of information, including a media which at the time also participated in accelerating the belief that the attacks were sparked by outrage over the video.

Much of the committee’s conversation on Thursday was between members, as Republicans and Democrats sparred intensely over the mission and the scope of the inquiry, as well as the relevance of many of the questions. This led to long stretches of time in which Clinton said little—or nothing—as committee members engaged in angry arguments.

Clinton defended herself in one exchange by telling the committee that diplomats are at some form of risk no matter where in the world they work or perform their duties. She also said that security at U.S. facilities is never perfect or foolproof, no matter what steps are taken and no matter how accurate and reliable the intelligence. Clinton cited much worse attacks on embassies and consulates during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

She also gave the example of Beirut in 1983, in which 250 Americans were killed along with 35 others, including civilians, when the driver of a truck loaded with explosives crashed the gate of an American compound, detonating a massive bomb.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Biden Says No to 2016 Candidacy; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 21, 2015.

FBI Recovering Clinton Emails; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; September 23, 2015.