Roby: Clinton Answers Not Satisfactory

Martha Roby

U.S Representative Martha Roby speaking to reporters/Image courtesy of C-SPAN

Roby: Clinton Answers Not Satisfactory

| published October 26, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

An Alabama Republican says that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to square the facts regarding decisions and communications before and after the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.

Martha Roby, U.S. Representative from Alabama’s 2nd District, says that Clinton avoided giving a clear or direct answer when asked about specific emails from her own staff regarding the presence of U.S. diplomats and staff in Benghazi. Roby read from an email dated February 9, 2012, part of a chain of correspondence between Alyce N. Abdalla and fellow State Department employee Evyenia Sidereas.

“Also, the Secretary asked last week if we still have a presence in Benghazi—I think she would be upset to hear that ‘yes we do.’ But because we don’t have enough security, they are on lockdown,” the email read.

Clinton, who defended her actions regarding Benghazi, told the Select Committee investigating the attack that she was deeply involved in decision-making and policy issues related to Libya. But when the Congresswoman pressed for clarification about the apparent confusion of State Department staffers, Clinton could only say she “couldn’t comment on what has been reported.”

“How could this be,” Roby asked, “that two of your staffers are emailing about whether or not you even knew that we had a presence in Benghazi in 2012 with all your interest in Libya in 2011?”

Clinton’s response, Roby says, was to minimize Abdalla’s relationship with Clinton and her top staff, and to suggest that as Secretary of State she could not possibly vet the correspondence of staffers not part of the inner circle. But Roby has since pointed out that Abdallah, in her role as Libyan Desk Officer, would have been the key point-of-contact within the State Department, and a person with whom Clinton would have been in regular contact with in order to remain fluent on diplomatic activities in Benghazi.

Roby says that when Clinton said she had “no recollection” of the thread of conversation, the Congresswoman suggested that Clinton refer to the tabbed three-ring binder which sat on the table in front of the former Secretary of State—a binder which contained most of the emails, documents and materials relevant to the committee’s inquiry. Roby says that despite requesting twice that Clinton take a look at the email, Clinton twice demurred.

Clinton offered her explanation of the situation: that a key factor in the U.S. presence in Libya (in addition to the facilitation of construction of a hospital, trade outreach, and the consideration of a permanent U.S. facility) was an attempt to interdict in the proliferation of weapons. Added security, Clinton said, might be interpreted by some Libyans as a larger, wider military mission by American forces—a perhaps unwelcome factor in the dangerous and delicate period post-Arab-Spring period.

During the exchange between Roby and Clinton, Roby challenged Clinton’s contention, and wondered aloud why Clinton’s own staff would fabricate such correspondence or be prone to such a wide misunderstanding.

“…this email says something very, very different,” Roby pointed out.

“I can’t speak to that,” Clinton said, adding, “I can just tell you what I was doing, and I was doing a lot.”

Clinton appeared before the Benghazi committee last week amid much media and press interest. The former Secretary of State’s performance was generally regarded as without major gaffe or forced error, through critics of Clinton says she left many questions unanswered. Unlike her previous appearance before Congress regarding Benghazi and the deaths of ambassador Christopher Stephens and others—a highly volatile showing in which she famously exploded—this appearance by Clinton remained controlled and cool, save for several now-infamous moments of extreme facial expressions.

The majority of fireworks in the room took place as Democrats and Republicans on the committee sparred intensely over the committee’s mission, with Democrats charging that the investigation is little more than a political hatchet job, and Republicans maintaining that the committee’s work is to find the truth about what happened in Benghazi.

The so-called Battle of Benghazi was really two attacks, one which began around 9:30 p.m. on September 11, 2012 at the U.S. diplomatic compound, commonly referred to as a consulate (though technically, as pointed out in the hearings, the compound was not even officially a consulate, but a diplomatic station). A second attack occurred several hours later, between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. at a diplomatic station and CIA office about one mile away, but still inside Benghazi.

Both attacks included the use by militants of rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, hand-held grenades, mortars, vehicle-mounted heavy weapons, and short-range heavy ordnance. First reports by both U.S. government sources and by the media, suggested that the attacks were a spontaneous uprising by local Muslims offended by a movie trailer which was being widely circulated on the internet. The short video, poorly produced and of less-than-average caliber, promoted a film called Innocence of Muslims, and contained overtly anti-Muslim images and scenes.

In fact, the video had nothing at all to do with the attack, through many in both the press and within the State Department continued to repeat the general theory that the movie trailer has inspired the assault. The attack was later linked to a militia group whose members or cohorts included Ahmed Abu Khattala, and to widely disseminated internet calls by al-Qaeda operative Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Clinton’s appearance before the committee came after ten days of relatively good news for her struggling campaign for President. Though she has remained the front-runner in most polls, her campaign has been dogged by problems related to her use of a privately-crafted email account while serving as Secretary of State. Clinton was, however able to put at least part of that issue to rest after a better-than–expected performance in the first Democratic debate, and after her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders dismissed the email issue as irrelevant to the larger issues facing voters.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Benghazi Hearings Produce Fireworks, But No Clinton Errors; Thursday Review; October 22, 2015.

A Debate Over the Debate: Did Clinton “Win”?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 15, 2015.