2008 December: President Obama nominates Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. 2009 Jan. 13: Reports say the clintonemail.com domain was established. Jan. 21: Senate confirms Clinton as secretary of state. March 18: Clinton will later name this as the date she began using a private server for government business. 2012 Sept. 11: Islamic extremists launch […]
Here is a brief excerpt from my Benghazi chapter in Stonewalled.
MRS. CLINTON’S BENGHAZI CHAPTER
…In a June 18, 2014, interview with Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, Clinton said that her own assessment of the Benghazi attacks “careened from the video had something to do with it, the video had nothing to do with it . . . I was trying to make sense of it.” She also spoke of being confused in the “fog of war,” a phrase that Obama of officials first evoked in the weeks after the attacks—and often re- peated—to help explain why it didn’t mount an outside military rescue of the trapped Americans that night.
The thing is, there’s little sense of “careening” assessments or the “fog of war” in the documentary evidence recorded at the time.
It was the night of September 11, 2012, and at 5:55 p.m. Eastern time, while the attacks were still under way, a State Department email included a report that “the extremist group Ansar Al Sharia ha[d] taken credit” and U.S. officials had asked Libyan officials to pursue the faction. A few minutes later, an alert from Clinton’s State Department Operations Center stated that the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli also reported the Islamic military group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility and called for an attack on the embassy in Tripoli.
But four hours later, in her first public statement on the attacks at 10:07 p.m., Clinton spoke of none of that. She did, for the first time, introduce the connection to the video.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Clinton’s statement reported. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”
If Clinton weren’t part of an effort to steer the narrative, then why didn’t she report that terrorists might be involved, as many behind the scenes had already concluded? Or at least say what the administration has so vigorously claimed since: that there was wild uncertainty? Or that assessments were—foggy? And if they were so foggy, then why was she careful not to evoke terrorism—yet quick to finger the video? (Continued below)
We later discovered that President Obama telephoned Clinton during the attacks about the time that she issued the statement. White House spokesman Carney had, in the past, declined to answer whether that call came before or after. The obvious question is: did the president and Clinton consult over her statement blaming the video?
Twenty-one months later, in an interview with FOX News anchor Bret Baier, Clinton was fuzzy on details and, apparently, hadn’t bothered to refresh herself on them even though she had just authored a new book that included a whole chapter about Benghazi—which is why she was now giving interviews.
Baier found Clinton vague when he asked about the timing of her statement and the president’s call.
“The statement went out, you know, I don’t know the exact time, it, my recollection is it went out before [the call with the president],” Clinton said. And she wouldn’t give a yes or no when asked whether they discussed the video: a fact she surely should know considering the controversy over that very issue.
“I don’t know that I talked about it with him at that conversation,” Clinton said.
Documents revealed in spring of 2014 cast further doubt on Clin- ton’s description of fogginess. In a State Department email the morning after the attack, her then-assistant secretary of state Beth Jones told Libya’s ambassador that “the group that conducted the attacks— Ansar Al Sharia—is af liated with Islamic extremists.” Period.
In a September 20, 2012, appearance on Univision, with Congress and the media chipping away at the video narrative, President Obama seemed to take a stab at blending ideas: retaining the video story but merging it with one that matched more closely with the terrorism reality.
“What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests,” Mr. Obama said.
The same day, there was a new spin from Carney who told the press that there was no reason to say there was a terrorist attack because everyone knew that, silly!
“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American of cials. So, again, that’s self-evident,” said Carney.
Except, perhaps, to Clinton, who says she was careening.
Carney’s remark reminds me of a comment Morell made in April of 2014 when he finally admitted to Congress that he removed the word Islamic from the phrase Islamic extremists. He did it not to obfuscate, he told Congress, but because, “what other kind of extremists are there in Libya?” Everyone knows that. We don’t have to say it.
And on September 25, a full two weeks after the attacks, the pres- ident addressed the U.N. General Assembly and continued to refer to “killers” rather than “terrorists,” evoking the “crude and disgusting video” that “sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”
Why was the conversation with the American public so starkly different than the one taking place behind the scenes—the accurate one—unless the narrative was being seriously manipulated?
Clinton now freely embraces in her book what she and the White House so carefully avoided saying in those early days. In fact, she’s decided to own it, if one can glean anything from the first sentence in her Benghazi chapter: the American victims, she writes, “were killed in a terrorist attack.” It’s almost as if she wants to convince us that she said so all along.