By Joseph Klein, Special for USDR
As Hillary Clinton contemplates running for president in 2016, does she have dreams conjuring up the Benghazi tragedy and cover-up and repeating in her sleep, “What difference does it make?” Even Lady Macbeth had her moment of guilt when, imagining a spot of the murdered Scottish king’s blood on her hand, she exclaimed: “Out, damned spot!”
Hillary just cannot get rid of the Benghazi stain on her record. Every time she thinks it is safe to go back into the water and leave Benghazi behind, another bit of the truth is revealed that calls into question the honesty of the Obama administration, including its former Secretary of State, about what happened before, during, and after the September 11, 2012 jihadist attack. And every time, we can count on spinmeisters in President Obama’s camp such as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to say things like Benghazi is old news and that Republicans are engaging in unfounded conspiracy theories. Carney’s line sounds like a re-booting of Hillary’s old lament about vast right-wing conspiracies. We can also count on Democratic partisans like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complaining: “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi! Why aren’t we talking about something else?” In another re-booting of a famous Hillary Clinton line, Pelosi is essentially asking – what difference does it make? Isn’t it time that we just moved on?
The answer is that the truth matters. The American people have a right to know how their commander-in-chief and possible future commander-in-chief were handling the Benghazi crisis, which led to the first killing since 1979 of a U.S. ambassador in the line of duty. And certainly the families of the fallen Americans have a right to know the full truth in order to reach closure.
Speaker John Boehner announced last week that he will call for a vote to establish a new House select committee to investigate. Speaker Boehner has announced that his choice to lead the committee is former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). What prompted this action was news last week that the administration had deliberately withheld from Congress a crucial e-mail written by a senior White House official just two days after the attack, which clearly shows it was the Obama White House that was playing partisan politics rather than telling the truth.
The State Department finally released the e-mail in response to a Freedom of Information request from Judicial Watch. The e-mail was authored by Benjamin J. Rhodes, the White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser at the time. Rhodes laid out the themes that then-U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, should emphasize during her five Sunday news talk program appearances on September 16, 2012. In the e-mail written two days before Rice’s appearance on the Sunday talk shows with the subject line, “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET,” Rhodes laid out one of the goals for Rice’s appearances: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes memo were White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist David Plouffe.
Susan Rice dutifully followed the script, which we now know was not just the product of the much reworked CIA talking points. The White House had its fingerprints all over what Susan Rice was sent out to say to the American people. And let’s not forget that Susan Rice was part of Hillary Clinton’s State Department at the time. Clinton would have been the logical person to appear on at least some of the talk shows to explain what happened to a key ambassador under her command and to the other dead Americans in Benghazi, because she was directly in the loop as the crisis was unfolding. Rice – then serving as UN ambassador with no direct pipeline to Benghazi – was sent out instead. That made no sense unless the purpose was to deflect attention from what Hillary knew and when she knew it.
Indeed, it turns out that President Obama and his Secretary of State had a 10 PM phone call the night of the attack. Only two hours before that phone call, Clinton had been briefed by Gregory Hicks, the State Department’s No. 2 official in Libya at the time of the attack, who sensed that terrorists were carrying out a pre-meditated attack. A spontaneous riot in reaction to a video was not responsible for what was unfolding. Did Hillary accurately and completely convey what she had learned from Hicks to the president during her 10 PM call? Or did she use her long experience in evading the truth to help concoct a cover up that would blame the video?
Seasoned investigator and expert on terrorism Andrew C. McCarthy reported last May about the 10 PM phone call and that “just a few minutes after Obama called Clinton, the Washington press began reporting that the State Department had issued a statement by Clinton” which referenced the video. As McCarthy explained:
“Fraud flows from the top down… There is good reason to believe that while Americans were still fighting for their lives in Benghazi, while no military efforts were being made to rescue them, and while those desperately trying to rescue them were being told to stand down, the president was busy shaping the ‘blame the video’ narrative to which his administration clung in the aftermath.”
Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton were invested in a narrative that deflected from the truth. Obama wanted to preserve the image during the election campaign, and for his legacy, that he had the terrorists on the run. Hillary wanted to make sure nothing would come out that called into question her preparedness for a terrorist attack with adequate security, which was not the case, and her crisis management capabilities. The last thing she wanted was anything that would undermine her own narrative of competence, as she had portrayed herself versus her Democratic primary opponent candidate Barack Obama in her 2008 3 AM White House Ringing Phone ad.
While Hillary surely does not want a new select committee to shine a light on her role in the Benghazi mess and cover up, Hillary has a bevy of loyal supporters who will protect her reputation at all cost. Democrats are already beginning to circle the wagons, charging that the plan for a new select committee is all about partisan politics. Jay Carney accused Republicans of engaging in a “highly partisan effort to politicize” the Benghazi attack and implied that the White House may not cooperate. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, called for a boycott of the select committee. “I think it’s a colossal waste of time,” said Schiff, who is a member of the House intelligence committee. “I don’t think it makes sense, really, for Democrats to participate.”
If nothing else, such an attitude is an insult to the families of the fallen Americans. They did not get the truth at the memorial service attended by President Obama, Clinton and family members of the fallen heroes, which was was held at Andrews Air Force on September 14, 2012. And they have not gotten the truth since.
Consider the fact that on Sept. 12, 2012 – within 24 hours of the Benghazi attack – Beth Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, sent an e-mail to top State Department officials that reads in part: “[T]he group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic extremists.”
On September 13th, CNN reported that unnamed “State Department officials” said the incident in Benghazi was a “clearly planned military-type attack” unrelated to the anti-Muslim movie. “It was not an innocent mob,” one senior official was quoted by CNN as saying. “The video or 9/11 made a handy excuse and could be fortuitous from their perspective but this was a clearly planned military-type attack.”
Yet Hillary Clinton was continuing to propagate the falsehood that the video was the reason for the attack. On September 14, 2012 – three days after the Benghazi attack – she was approached by the father of Navy Seal Woods at the memorial service. Clinton vowed to him that the Obama administration would “arrest and prosecute” the producer of the video. In her remarks at the service, she denounced the “awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with” as the cause of the violence. Either Hillary deliberately misled the grief-stricken father as to the real cause of the attack that took the life of his son, or she willfully turned a blind eye to what her senior officials had already said and what the State Department’s No. 2 official in Libya had told her on the night of the attack. As Navy Seal Woods’ father later said about his encounter with Hillary, “Even at that time, she was trying to place a spin on what happened.”
On September 27th – barely two weeks after Clinton’s vow to “arrest and prosecute” the video producer – Mark Basseley Youssef was arrested and held without bail on the trumped up grounds that he had violated his probation linked to a prior conviction for the non-violent crime of bank fraud. The day after Obama’s re-election victory lap, the scapegoat Youssef was sentenced by a federal district court judge to one year in prison for violating the terms of his probation. In August 2013, he was moved from prison to a halfway house to serve the remaining time of his sentence. The perpetrators who killed Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans remain at large.
It wasn’t until Obama was safely inaugurated for his second term that Clinton showed up to testify before Congress. This is when she loudly proclaimed, in response to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s request for her to explain how Americans were misled:
“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 who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Hopefully, the House select committee will finally get to the bottom of what happened. It will make a difference to the families of the four slain Americans who are still waiting for a true accounting of what really happened and why. It will also make a difference to expose the truth about the role played by a potential leading candidate for the presidency in 2016 – what Hillary knew and did before, during and after the Benghazi attack – so that she cannot remove from herself the “damned spot” of accountability in the court of public opinion.