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Hillary Clinton’s return to Whitewater mode

At a Senate hearing in January, Hillary Clinton responded to questioning from Sen. Ron Johnson about the nature of the Benghazi attack with this rant:

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

Given what we now know, the question is best put to Clinton herself. After all, she (through her spokesperson) initiated what the Washington Post has called a “bureaucratic knife fight” over how the attack would be characterized in talking points prepared for Congress and used by Susan Rice.

The original talking points spoke of a “direct assault” and mentioned the militant group Ansar al-Sharia. Clinton’s agents insisted that these references be removed, and they were. So were references to warnings by the CIA about the mounting threat posed by extremists in Benghazi and previous attacks there against foreign interests.

Clearly, these references made a difference to Clinton. I figure it was the difference between a State Department that was criminally negligent and one that justifiably was surprised that anyone would attack the Benghazi facility. As Clinton’s spokesperson said in an email pushing back against the CIA’s version of the talking points, that version “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.”

If there’s a different explanation for why the talking points made enough of a difference for Hillary Clinton to start a bureaucratic knife fight, she should identify it. In any case, she should explain why she told Congress that the reasons for, and nature of, the Benghazi attacks make no difference, even though she knew her agents had struggled mightily over what the talking points would say about this.

Finally, let’s note that Clinton didn’t simply ask what difference the talking points make; she fairly shouted the question. What was the source of her anger?

I would like to believe that it’s rooted in guilt over not having beefed up security in Libya, as those on the ground there had requested. More likely, though, the anger stems from dislike of being challenged and the sense that her presidential ambitions may have been compromised.

This is the real Hillary Clinton, one suspects — the one we saw back in the days of Whitewater. She even dusted off her old, derisive characterization of questions asking her to explain her actions:

Whitewater news conference, May 1994:

Q. [There was] the suggestion in the R.T.C. memorandum . . . you and your husband knew or should have known that Whitewater was not cash-flowing and that notes or debts should have been paid?

HRC. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. We didn’t.

Senate Benghazi hearing, Jan. 23, 2013:

HRC. Nobody wants to sit where I am and think now about what ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ happened in order to avoid this.

The best way for Clinton to avoid future annoying coulda, shoulda, woulda questions is to remain outside of public life.

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