By all accounts I’ve seen or read, except for Fox News who continued to beat on her Friday morning, Hillary Clinton did more than hold her own under about eight hours of pommelling by congressional Republicans at their committee hearing on Benghazi yesterday. The news reports say 11 hours, but that includes a number of breaks. I know because I watched most of it, for which I deserve a medal or should seek professional help. Perhaps both.
Hillary did get bouts of breathing room when Democrats on the committee took turns praising the former Secretary of State, adding information supportive of her or slamming the partisan nature of the committee. Except to those intent on defaming her, she appeared more impressive in handling the often disrespectful questions than those who asked them. She appeared, dare I say, presidential. I was reminded why I liked her prior to her personal server fiasco: her brains, her knowledge of foreign policy and her toughness. Reuters proclaimed the hearings made her “a new reality star.” Move over Donald.
Republican Chair Trey Gowdy began the session by saying the purpose of the committee was to seek the truth about what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attack. From what I saw the hearing was actually a trial of Hillary on the unstated charges of bad judgement, insufficient caring and dishonesty. There was certainly much more of that than the discovery of new truths.
The attack began with a line of questioning I found curious. The Republican questioner basically made the case that it was Hillary who largely led us into Syria by developing an international coalition and convincing President Obama to act, a complex endeavor when you think about it. I give her achievement points for that even though the enterprise went sour over time, a subject that actually deserves examination and has never received it because it wouldn’t make either party look good.
That Clinton actually achieved something here helps refute Carlie Fiorina’s criticism that Mrs. Clinton’s many travel miles does not equate with achievement. Though an odd tact, the questioning does fit the theme of blaming Hillary for as much as possible. We got involved in this Libyan mess because of her and later she did some more bad things.
The second point of attack was Clinton’s role in the absence of sufficient security at the Benghazi compound. Given the general chaos of Benghazi at the time and the lack of reliable support, if any, by Libyan police, it seems obvious now that more security was needed. But how much to blame Mrs. Clinton remains an open question for those with open minds. Yes there were requests for more security by Ambassador Stevens and it seems many were turned down, but as one knowledgeable commentator has suggested they weren’t of the “hair raising kind.” In other words, Ambassador Stevens was willing to abide by standard request procedures.
Clinton argued that she had security experts handle those requests and did not see them. As a result of the attack, a review of procedures suggested two high level staffer failed to do their jobs, while procedural changes were made, such as a new staff position that focuses on posts with the highest risk situations. You want to blame Clinton for not having a more responsive system already in place, go ahead but she did head up a department serving over 200 posts world wide including many other high risk situations as well, Those who judge her harshly on what happened in Benghazi act as if that was the sole focus of her job, probably because it has become their sole focus.
In any event, the Republican questioning took an odd tact. They spent well over an hour dwelling on the emails of Sydney Blumenthal, who had little to do with the situation. Though not an expert on Libya, he is an old friend of Hillary’s who gave her some information culled form a former CIA agent it seems. She passed on some of it to other officials who might be interested. The Republican point seemed to be that she was much more available to talk about Benghazi with this friend than with Ambassador Stevens, as if email exchanges about policy are common in the State Department which actually uses cables and secured phones for the most part, at least that is my sense from the hearing.
No case was made that other ambassadors communicated with Clinton through email and had her personal phone number, either. There was just the innuendo that Clinton was not really available to Ambassador Stevens while she was to Blumenthal, ignoring the way the State Department normally does business.
The third charge was aimed at Mrs. Clinton’s honesty in the days that followed as to who made the attack. Finally some new information in the form of three emails, two to foreign leaders and one to a relative. All went out the day after the attack and all indicated it was an act of terrorists. In one she even dismissed the notion that the video and a demonstration in Egypt played any role. In response, Clinton said that counter information came in later that blurred events which made her question her original opinion.
The Republicans have ginned this up as if it were another Watergate. At worst it was a short term attempt to get a grip on the situation while putting the best political spin on it as possible. The fair minded conservative columnist Kathleen Parker summed it up this way yesterday:
“Republicans have focused on a narrative that is too ghastly to imagine. One theory is that Clinton and the Obama administration didn’t want the world to know that their Libya mission had failed, so they blamed it on the anti-Islam video then in circulation. More horrid is the suggestion that Clinton purposely denied extra security to Stevens lest her role in directing our Libya policy be tarnished. People will believe what suits them. But the more probable truth concerning Benghazi is that the early story was a deception with a purpose, which was to buy time until the administration and the CIA could figure out how to manage the crisis without exposing the intelligence agency’s operation in the area.”
So, after three years and eight congressional committees (with this one ongoing) we are left with the debatable contention that Hillary Clinton was somehow derelict in her duties by not being in more direct contact with Ambassador Stevens (who certainly could have contacted her directly if he chose), hence not responsive enough prior to the assault. Also, the charge that she helped the Obama administration spin a murky truth situation in their favor for a week or so (as if immediately coming down firmly on the terrorist attack explanation would have changed anything.)
That is all that the Republican inquisition has been able to come up with to this point regarding Benghazi. I can’t imagine how they will come up with anything more definitive, but that does not mean they won’t keep trying.
P. S. – If you want to get more background details on the hearing check out this article in the Los Angeles Times.