Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her long-awaited appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi today, arguing that a deficit of emails about Benghazi security concerns in 2012 isn’t reflective of her concern because she “did not conduct most of the business that I did on behalf of our country on email.”
“I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” Clinton said of losing the four Americans. “I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together.”
Clinton greeted the Republicans on the dais first, starting with Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), shaking hands down the line before greeting Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the Democrats and then taking her seat at the witness table.
Gowdy stressed that even though other committees have investigated Benghazi, his is the first to go through many documents, request Ambassador Chris Stevens’ emails, uncover Hillary’s use of a personal server for email, and even interview some witnesses no one had talked to before.
“The ARB never interviewed Secretary Clinton. The ARB never reviewed her emails,” Gowdy said, adding that there are no transcripts of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board interviews. “That is not independent. That is not accountability. That is not a serious investigation.”
“Not a single member of this committee signed up to investigate you or your email,” he said to Clinton, noting she’s one of many important witnesses who have come before the committee. “…You were the secretary of State at all relevant times so of course the committee is going to want to talk to you.”
“If the Democrats on this committee had their way… your documents would still be private,” he said. But, Gowdy said, “There is no statute of limitations on the truth.”
“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Cummings replied.
Cummings charged that the select committee was set up with “no rules, no deadlines, and an unlimited budget” for an “abusive effort to derail” Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“They set them loose, Madame Secretary, because you’re running for president,” he said, citing not just House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) remarks about Clinton’s sinking poll numbers after the committee launched but GOP presidential candidates asserting Hillary’s guilt in the attack.
In her opening statement, Clinton said she was at the hearing to “honor” the four Americans who lost their lives the night of the Benghazi attacks.
“Losing any one of them… during my tenure was deeply painful for our entire State Department and USAID family and for me personally,” she said of all deaths related to the department during that time, noting that she asked Stevens to go to Benghazi.
“We have learned the hard way that when America is absent, especially from unstable places, there are consequences,” she said.
Clinton insisted that “the Accountability Review Board did not pull a single punch,” adding that she put every recommendation from the internal review into place before leaving the State Department.
“I take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.”
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) showed Clinton two piles of emails — one stack of 795 from 2011, with frequent updates about Benghazi, and a much smaller stack of 67 from 2012. “There was a lack of interest in Libya in 2012,” Brooks concluded.
Clinton said Ambassador Stevens was sent to Benghazi “to do reconnaissance” on rebels in the area on a mission of “expeditionary diplomacy” and the assignment was “open-ended.”
“This was, we all knew, a risky undertaking,” she said, likening it to pre-Internet “19th-century diplomacy.” She added that Stevens volunteered for the assignment.
Brooks noted there’s not a single email in her records about an explosive device detonated outside the U.S. Embassy in April 2012, despite numerous emails about security posture in 2011.
“I did not conduct most of the business that I did on behalf of our country on email,” Clinton said, noting that her office in the State Department “did not have a computer” and she preferred to do things in meetings. “I did not email during the day except on rare occasion.”
With a limited number of lawmakers on the Benghazi panel, some Dems supported Clinton in the audience. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) was seated behind Clinton as she testified.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) charged that Republicans have “an obsession with email” that “takes us off the task” of the committee. He accused fellow committee member Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) of acting like he’s running for president in his questioning of Clinton about broad Libya administration policy.
“Have we learned anything substantively new about Benghazi? No. I was against this committee in the first place,” Smith said.
Clinton and Smith found common cause in blaming budget shortfalls for security lapses. The Republican National Committee fired back in a rapid response email that “not only does testimony from State Department officials contradict Clinton’s claim, the agency’s Inspector General and Clinton herself have admitted to poor spending decisions while she was Secretary of State.”
Clinton admitted that she was aware of a “dangerous militant upsurge” in Libya, but said that the morning of the attack there was no “credible actionable threat” against the Benghazi compound.
“No one ever came to me and said we should shut down our compound in Benghazi,” she said.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) noted that Stevens “asked numerous times for extra protection… I would have gotten in touch with you in some way.” Like Sid Blumenthal, the congressman asked, did the ambassador have Clinton’s email to take his request to the top?
“I do not believe he had my personal email… he was in constant contact with people,” Clinton said. “Yes, he and the people working for him asked for more security. Some of those requests were approved, some were not.”
“Chris asked for what and his people requested because he thought it would be helpful but he never said to anyone in the State Department ‘you know, we just can’t keep doing this.’… He took those requests where they belong. He took them to the security professionals.”
Blumenthal, she insisted, was “not at all my adviser on Libya.”
Gowdy noted that Blumenthal nonetheless gave her a lot of advice. “Some of it I found interesting, some of it I did not,” Clinton said, insisting the emails from her longtime confidante were “unsolicited.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) asked why no one has been held accountable for Benghazi. Clinton said the ARB found no dereliction or breach of duty to warrant taking immediate action against State Department employees.
“I followed the law, congressman,” she said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) focused his questioning on the video — how no demonstrations were reported in Benghazi, but the administration initially publicly assessed blame on an anti-Muhammad YouTube video. He then highlighted State Department emails saying that Susan Rice was “off the reservation” for going on TV to spread the story.
“During the day on Sept. 11… there was a very large protest against our embassy in Cairo,” Clinton replied. “…The inflammatory video had been shown on Egyptian television, which has a broader reach than just inside Egypt.”
Clinton said she brought up the video after the attack “not to ascribe a motive to every attacker but as a warning to those across the region” for further Cairo-style attacks.
“I think you knew the truth,” Jordan said. He then showed an email from the night of the attack stating that the diplomatic facility was attacked by “al-Qaeda-like group” and another email bringing up Ansar al-Sharia’s claim of responsibility. “Why didn’t you tell the American people.”
“I clearly said it was an attack,” Clinton said.
“Calling it an attack is like calling the sky blue — of course it was an attack,” Jordan interjected.
“Well, congressman, there was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of,” Clinton said.
Jordan alleged that Clinton spun the narrative because it was 56 days before an election, saying that a story about a video motive wouldn’t hurt the Dem ticket “but a terrorist attack will.” Clinton listened to Jordan with her chin resting on her hand.
“I wrote a whole chapter about this in my book Hard Choices, congressman; I’d be happy to send it to you,” she said when Gowdy gave her a chance to respond.
Clinton said Jordan’s “insinuations do a great disservice” to those in public service.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we did the best with the information we had at the time,” she said, adding that one of the captured Benghazi suspects, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, said he was taking revenge for the video. “None of us can speak to the individual motivations of those terrorists.”
“I think the intelligence community… went through a series of interpretations and analysis.”