Late last week, the State Department released a tiny number of Hillary Clinton’s emails related to the Benghazi controversy. On Saturday, I wrote about the most important of those emails in Hillary’s Real Benghazi Problem. If you haven’t read that post, I recommend it; its point is that the real issue isn’t Benghazi in a vacuum, it is the disastrous Libya policy for which Hillary is mostly responsible. The deaths of four Americans in Benghazi comprise only one small part of the fallout from that failed policy.
What follows are some lesser but, I hope, interesting observations on the email production.
This email thread gives a partial glimpse into how information on the Benghazi attacks made its way to the State Department. The original email came from the DS [Department of State, I assume] Command Center at 11:41 p.m. on September 11, 2012. It reported that the second Benghazi attack, the one on the facility commonly referred to as the CIA Annex, was underway and that Americans had been injured. In fact, two were killed. This was described as an “attack by mortar fire.” Click to enlarge.
The email was promptly forwarded to Secretary Clinton’s closest aides, with the notation, “FYI, fresh attacks on Benghazi.” This is one of a number of documents showing that from the earliest hours, it was obvious to Hillary and others in the State Department that Americans had come under an organized military attack. Demonstrators and protesters don’t use mortars. The Obama administration tried to deflect attention away from its own security failures in the face of known threats, and also away from the fact that Libya had become a terrorist haven as a result of its failed policies, by hyping the silly internet video and claiming that what happened was a spontaneous protest.
The word “spontaneous” is key. On September 16, Jake Sullivan, Hillary’s deputy chief of staff, sent her a roundup of Susan Rice’s performances on the Sunday morning news shows. He started by saying, “She wasn’t asked about whether we had any intel,” suggesting that this was a sensitive point. As we know now, Hillary and her minions had plenty of intel, but failed to act on it. Sullivan goes on to say that Rice “did make clear our view that this started spontaneously and then evolved.” Click to enlarge:
But within a week or so, enough information had leaked out that the “spontaneous” demonstration angle was becoming a laughingstock. So Sullivan went through all of the public remarks Hillary had made about Benghazi to see how far she had gone in committing herself to that narrative. This is his report:
So that’s a relief: Hillary “never said spontaneous” or explicitly blamed the internet video. They left that to Susan Rice and others; when that narrative was shot down, Hillary wasn’t exposed. That’s what they thought on September 24, anyway.
One impression you get from the emails is that Hillary and her staffers are weirdly isolated. This batch of emails includes several from Sid Blumenthal, which others, including Paul here and here, have commented on. I don’t have anything to add with regard to Blumenthal’s “intelligence” reports on Libya, but this one struck me as odd:
The first email from Sid consists of a link to a Salon article that is a transparent smear against the Romney campaign. Purporting to come from a Romney insider, the article says that Republicans are “chortling with glee” and “jubilant” about the Obama administration’s intelligence failures in Benghazi. The article’s anonymous source, however, “said he was dubious about the tactic. ‘To me, it is indicative that they have lost touch with a huge portion of the electorate,’ he said.”
It is hard to believe that anyone was fooled. The subject heading of Sid’s email, which includes “got done and published,” suggests that Blumenthal had something to do with planting the smear, which Hillary says she will “push to the White House.”
But note the last email, from Blumenthal to Hillary on October 1, 2012: “Romney has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal…” Does Hillary really need Sid Blumenthal to tell her that Mitt Romney has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal?
Perhaps so. Positive and negative press coverage is a common subject of these emails. But how about this? Hillary learns that the CIA station chief in Tripoli sent a cable on September 12, which said there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. Where did she hear of this? On NPR. Cheryl Mills says she hasn’t seen it, but “will see if we can get.”
One would think that the Secretary of State would be informed about CIA cables that bear directly on her key area of interest, but apparently NPR has better access.
One last point, on which I mostly defend Hillary and her aides. During the chaotic night of September 11, word came that our ambassador had been murdered. This email thread, which discusses whether to make an announcement or wait until morning, bears the subject heading “Re: Chris Smith.” So they didn’t even remember Chris Stevens’s name, a fact for which some have bitterly criticized Hillary and her aides. I don’t know; maybe they mingled in Sean Smith, who also died that night. In any event, I give them a pass–fog of war, and so on. Hillary appointed Stevens and, I think, was well aware of who he was.
One final observation: Hillary’s response in this email thread, “Ok,” is unusually communicative. In almost every other case, the only words from the Secretary of State are “Pls print,” as she forwards an email thread to a secretary. That is Hillary Clinton’s legacy: Please print. Maybe there once were other emails in which she expressed opinions, gave instructions, and so on, but those emails have been deleted. Maybe. Or else perhaps Hillary is, and always has been, a cipher, much like her boss, Barack Obama. She is no one, so we can all fill in the blank however we want.
If in the heat of the moment, the only response the Secretary of State had to the murder of one of her ambassadors and three other Americans was “pls print,” one thing we can say for sure is that she should never be President of the United States.