Clinton skating through Benghazi hearing so far [UPDATE: the tide turns]

We’re almost two hours into the Gowdy committee hearing, and it’s going well for Hillary Clinton. Trey Gowdy used much of his opening statement to defend his committee. That’s playing into the Democrats’ hands. He should have laid out the strongest elements of the case against Clinton.

Clinton, her eyes on the prize, used her opening statement as part of her presidential campaign. She served up a lecture on American foreign policy and the need for us to remain engaged in the world.

The first questioner, Rep. Roskam, wanted to focus on Clinton’s Libya policy. But he led off with a question so open-ended — our involvement in Libya didn’t come easy, did it — that allowed Clinton to filibuster before he could get his questioning under way.

Rep. Brooks did an effective job of showing, via email traffic, how little attention Clinton was paying to Libya in 2012 compared to 2011. Either Clinton’s attention was elsewhere or lots of Benghazi emails have been destroyed. Or both.

Rep. Roby tried to nail Clinton with emails from State Department staffers questioning whether the Secretary even knew we still had a presence in Benghazi. But after Clinton asked for the names of the staffers, she noted that they weren’t on her staff and not really in a position to know what she did or did not know.

The committee Republicans need to step up their game.

UPDATE: Things are picking up.

Right now, Rep. Westmoreland is doing a better job than previous Republican questioners. He has shown that Clinton was aware of only two incidents where the compound came under attack out of 20 incidents that occurred.

Westmoreland asks how many incidents it would have taken for Clinton to do something to better secure our facility. Clinton ducks the question by saying she relied on security professionals. Pretty weak.

Now he asks whether Chris Stevens had Hillary Clinton’s personal email, as Sid Blumenthal did. He did not. Thus, he couldn’t ask Clinton personally for more security. Nice point.

Clinton is on the defensive now. She says that Stevens never suggested that we shut down the facility. This is weak. As Westmoreland notes, we’re not talking about shutting it down but about better security.

Over to Rep. Pompeo. He wants to know why no one was fired over Benghazi. Clinton claims she had no authority to fire anyone.

Pompeo says there were 600 requests for security for Libya. None reached her desk. Yet many dozens of Blumenthal emails reached her desk. Good point.

Clinton resorts to her Blumenthal talking points — he was a friend, some of his information was useful, etc.

Relying on a chart, Pompeo asks why there was no increase in security in response to all the requests. She relies on the calls made by “security professionals.” But, as Pompeo notes, Stevens was the best expert on the security requirements in Libya.

Pompeo is showing a cable showing that State Department officials were discussing security in Libya with an al Qaeda fighter just days before the attack in Benghazi attack. Clinton says she’s unaware of this. Pompeo’s time expires before he can pursue this line of questioning.

The Republicans have rallied. Westmoreland and Pompeo will have additional rounds. Trey Gowdy hasn’t asked questions yet.

Unfortunately, though, the first impression is often the lasting impression. Thus, the Republicans’ slow start may control the narrative of today’s hearing.


Rep. Jim Jordan is going after Clinton on the “video.” There was no protest or demonstration, he shows based on eyewitnesses plus Greg Hicks, the number two diplomat in Libya. Rather there was a terrorist attack and we knew it at the time. Yet Clinton immediately released a statement trying to tie the event to a protest over a video. Why?

Clinton says she wasn’t ascribing a motive to the attack, but just noting what some people were saying. This is consistent with the precise words of her statement at the time, though Clinton is cutting it pretty fine.

Jordan pulls an email in which she told her family that this was an al Qaeda-affiliated group attack. But she didn’t tell this to the American people.

In addition, she told the Egyptian president the next day that this attack had nothing to do with the video. Why didn’t she tell this to the American people?

Clinton replies lamely that there was lots of confusing and conflicting information. But this “confusion” isn’t reflected in what she told her family and the Egyptian president.

Jordan is hammering Clinton now based on emails from her spokesperson Victoria Nuland. They show that while Americans are still fighting for their lives, Clinton’s staff is trying to figure out how to spin this, talking about what to say “if pressed” and referencing the Romney campaign.

Jordan wraps it all up brilliantly with a “speech” about how Clinton chose not to level with the American people. I hope this becomes a central sound bite in the coverage of the hearing.

I have commitments this afternoon, so I’m going to sign off.

The bottom line on the first three hours is: Dems and Clinton win the first two; Republicans win the third.