Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, who broke the story about Hillary Clinton’s use, exclusively, of a private account for State Department business, reports on the 300 or so Clinton emails that have been released to Trey Gowdy’s committee on Benghazi. Schmidt was not permitted to review these emails, but did receive descriptions of some of them from “four senior government officials.”
Arguably, the most interesting fact revealed by Schmidt pertains not to the substance of the emails, but rather to their addresses. Clinton has claimed that her practice was to email aides at their government addresses so the messages could be preserved, in compliance with federal record-keeping regulations. According to Schmidt, however, top aides at times corresponded with her about State Department matters from their personal email accounts.
I can’t tell from Schmidt’s report whether Clinton’s responses were sent to government addresses. But it seems clear at a minimum that the practices of some Clinton’s aides undermined compliance with federal record-keeping regulations.
As described by Schmidt, some of the emails are also interesting at a substantive level. Following Susan Rice’s infamous talk show appearances in which she claimed that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous eruption of violence, triggered by an offensive anti-Muslim video, Clinton aide Jake Sullivan told his boss that Rice “ma[d]e clear our view that this started spontaneously then evolved.”
This “view” was Clinton’s story at the time. However, it was inconsistent with the facts as Clinton’s staff knew them to be. Documents obtained by Judicial Watch show that top aides for Clinton, including Sullivan and chief of staff Cheryl Mills, knew from the outset that the Benghazi compound was under attack by armed assailants and that there was good reason to believe the assailants were tied to a terrorist group.
One report to Team Clinton, from 4:07 PM on September 11, 2012 stated:
The Regional Security Officer reports the diplomatic mission is under attack. Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM [Chief of Mission] personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.
Another, from half an hour later, said:
DSCC received a phone call from [REDACTED] in Benghazi, Libya initially stating that 15 armed individuals were attacking the compound and trying to gain entrance. The Ambassador is present in Benghazi and currently is barricaded within the compound.
Another email, from 6:06 PM revealed that a terrorist group, Ansar al Sharia, took credit for the attack
Schmidt notes that, under pressure from the Romney campaign, President Obama was forced to back away from the “spontaneous attack due to a video” lie. In an email to Clinton, Sullivan assured his boss that in the aftermath of the attack, she had avoided the language that had landed Rice in trouble — the language Sullivan had described as stating “our view.”
Unfortunately for Clinton, she had used that language on the day of the attack. At that time, she issued a statement claiming the assault may have been in “a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
Clinton also resorted to the internet video lie when she met privately with the family of one of the Americans killed during the Benghazi attack. It was then that she made her famous and cynical promise to “make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.”
Gowdy believes that there were many more Benghazi-related emails to and from Clinton. In the hope of finding them, he is asking Clinton to turn over her server.
Unfortunately, Gowdy almost surely will have to make do with what he has, and Schmidt’s report suggests that he has no smoking gun on Benghazi beyond what is already known. However, he may have enough to undercut Clinton’s statements about her practices regarding emailing with staff.