Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was confronted with emails where she characterized the Benghazi attack as “planned attack” unrelated to a video by Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) in testimony before the Benghazi Select Committee on Thursday.
Jordan said, “You just gave a long answer, Madam Secretary, to Miss Sanchez about what you heard that night, what you were doing, but nowhere in there did you mention a video. You didn’t mention a video because there was never a video-inspired protest in Benghazi. There was in Cairo, but not in Benghazi. Victoria Nuland, your spokesperson at the State Department, hours after the attack, said this, ‘Benghazi has been attacked by militants. In Cairo, police have removed demonstrators.’ Benghazi, you got weapons and explosions, Cairo, you got spray paint and rocks. One hour before the attack in Benghazi, Chris Stevens walks a diplomat to the front gate. The ambassador didn’t report a demonstration. He didn’t report it because it never happened. An eyewitness in the command center that night on the ground said no protest, no demonstration.Two intelligence reports that day, no protest, no demonstration. The attack starts at 3:42 eastern time, ends at approximately 11:40 p.m. that night. At 4:06, an ops alert goes out across the State Department, says this, ‘Mission under attack, armed men, shots fired, explosions heard.’ No mention of a video, no mention of a protest, no mention of a demonstration. But the best evidence is Greg Hicks, the number two guy in Libya, who worked side by side with Ambassador Stevens. he was asked if there had been a protest would the ambassador have reported it? Mr. Hicks’ response, ‘Absolutely. For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens’ front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable,’ Mr. Hicks said. He said, ‘Secondly, if it had been reported, he would have been out the back door within minutes, and there was a back gate.’ Everything points to a terrorist attack. we just heard from Mr. Pompeo about the long history of terrorist incidents, terrorist violence in the country, and yet five days later, Susan Rice goes on five TV shows and she says this, ‘Benghazi was a spontaneous reaction…as a consequence of [the] video.’ A statement we all know is false. But don’t take my word for it, here’s what others have said.”
Jordan continued, “‘Rice was off the reservation. Off the reservation on five networks. White House worried about the politics.’ Republicans didn’t make those statements. they were made by the people who worked for you in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, the actual experts on Libya in the State Department. So, if there’s no evidence for a video-inspired protest, then where did the false narrative start? It started with you, Madam Secretary. At 10:08, on the night, of the attack you released this statement. ‘Some have sought to justify [this] vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.’ At 10:08 with no evidence, at 10:08 before the attack is over, at 10:08, when Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty are still on the roof of the annex fighting for their lives, the official statement of the State Department blames a video. Why?”
Hillary answered, “During the day on September 11th, as you did mention, Congressman, there was a very large protest against our embassy in Cairo. Protesters breached the walls. They tore down the American flag, and it was of grave concern to us, because the inflammatory video had been shown on Egyptian television, which has a broader reach than just inside Egypt. And if you look at what I said, I referred to the video that night in a very specific way. I said ‘some have sought to justify’ the attack because of the video. I used those words deliberately, not to ascribe a motive to every attacker, but as a warning to those across the region, that there was no justification for further attacks, and in fact, during the course of that week, we had many attacks that were all about the video. We had people breaching the walls of our embassies in Tunis and Khartoum, we had people, thankfully not Americans dying at protests, but that’s what was going on, Congressman.”
Jordan responded, “You mentioned Cairo. It was interesting what else Miss Nuland said that day. She said, if pressed, by the press, if there’s a connection between and Benghazi, she said this, ‘There’s no connection between the two.’ So, here’s what troubles me. Your experts knew the truth. Your spokesperson knew the truth. Greg Hicks knew the truth. But what troubles me more is I think you knew the truth.”
Jordan continued, “I want to show you a few things here. You’re looking at an email you sent to your family. Here’s what you said, at 11:00 that night, approximately one hour after you told the American people it was a video, you say to your family ‘Two officers were killed today in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group.’ You tell the American people one thing, you tell your family an entirely different story. Also, on the night of the attack, you had a call with the president of Libya. Here’s what you said to him, ‘Ansar al-Sharia is claiming responsibility.’ It’s interesting, because, Mr. Khattala, one of the guys arrested and charged, actually belonged to that group. And finally, and most significantly, the next day within 24 hours, you had a conversation with the Egyptian prime minister, you told him this, ‘We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with a film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.'”
Hillary responded, “I clearly said that it was an attack, and I also said that there were some who tried to justify it on the basis of the video, Congressman.”
Jordan cut in to counter, “Calling it an attack is like saying the sky’s blue.”
Hillary continued, “Well, congressman, there was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of. The situation was very fluid. It was fast-moving. There was also a claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Sharia, and when I talked to the Egyptian prime minister, I said that this was a claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Sharia, by a group that was affiliated, or at least wanted to be affiliated with al Qaeda. Sometime after that, the next day, early the next morning after that, on the 12th or 13th, they retracted their claim of responsibility. And I think if you look at what all of us were trying to do, and we were in a position, Congressman, of trying to make sense of a lot of incoming information. and watch the way the intelligence community tried to make sense of it.”
Jordan again pointed to Victoria Nuland’s statement that there wasn’t a connection between Cairo and Benghazi. He then accused Clinton’s team of playing politics, displaying an email between Victoria Nuland and Jake Sullivan during the Benghazi attack discussing Mitt Romney’s statement about Libya.
Jordan continued that Clinton picked the video narrative “with no evidence. And you did it because Libya was supposed to be…this great success story for the Obama White house and the Clinton State Department, and a key campaign theme that year was GM’s alive, bin Laden’s dead, al Qaeda’s on the run, and now you have a terrorist attack, and it’s a terrorist attack in Libya, and it’s just 56 days before an election. You could live with the protest about a video, that won’t hurt you, but a terrorist attack will. So you can’t be square with the American people.”
Clinton answered, “Well, I wrote a whole chapter about this in my book ‘Hard Choices.’ I would be glad to send it to you, congressman, because I think the insinuations that you are making do a grave disservice to the hard work that people in the State Department, the intelligence community, the Defense Department, the White House did during the course of some very confusing and difficult days. There is no doubt in my mind that we did the best we could with information that we had, at the time, and if you’d actually go back and read what I said that night, I was very careful, in saying that some have sought to justify, in fact, the man that has been arrested as one of the ringleaders of what happened in Benghazi, Ahmed Abu Khattala, is reported to have said it was the video that motivated him. None of us can speak to the individual motivations of those terrorists who overran our compound, and who attacked our CIA annex. There were probably a number of different motivations. I think the intelligence community, which took the lead on trying to sort this out, as they should have, went through a series of interpretations and analysis, and we were all guided by that. We were not making up the intelligence. We were trying to get it, make sense of it, and then to share it. When i was speaking to the Egyptian prime minister, or, in the other two examples you showed, we had been told by Ansar al-Sharia, that they took credit for it. It wasn’t until about 24 or more hours later, that they retracted taking credit for it. We also knew, congressman, because my responsibility was for what was happening throughout the region, I needed to be talking about the video because I needed to be putting other governments, and other people on notice that we were not going to let them get away with attacking us, as they did in Tunis, as they did in Khartoum, and in Tunis, there were thousands of demonstrators who were there only because of the video, breaching the walls of our embassy, burning down the American school. I was calling everybody in the Tunisian government I could get, and finally President Marzouki sent his presidential guard to break it up. There were — is example after example. That’s what I was trying to do during those very desperate and difficult hours.”
Jordan countered, “I’m not insinuating anything. I’m reading what you said, plain language. ‘We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with a film.’ That’s as plain as it can get. That’s vastly different than ‘vicious behavior’ justified by Internet material. Why didn’t you just speak plain to the American people?
Clinton responded, “I did. If you look at my statement, as opposed to what I was saying to the Egyptian prime minister, I did state clearly, and I said it again in more detail, the next morning, as did the president. I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative, Congressman. I can only tell you what the facts were, and the facts, as the democratic members have pointed out in their most recent collection of them, support this process that was going on, where the intelligence community was pulling together information, and it’s very much harder to do it these days than it used to be, because you have to monitor social media, for goodness’ sakes. That’s where the Ansar al-Sharia claim was placed. I think the intelligence community did the best job they could, and we all did our best job to try to figure out what was going on, and then to convey that to the American people.”
Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett