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First Batch Of Hillary Clinton Benghazi Emails Reveals No Smoking Guns

Benghazi 3

Late yesterday, the State Department released the first batch of emails from Hillary Clinton’s time in office relating the events surrounding the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya and, so far at least, there does not seem to be any sort of smoking gun:

Nearly 900 pages of Libya-related e-mails from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private account provide little apparent fuel for a Republican investigation of her actions preceding the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi and an alleged administration coverup in its aftermath.

Released Friday by the State Department, the e-mails contain nuggets indicating Clinton received a fairly steady flow of information about the political ­chaos inside Libya throughout 2011 and 2012. They also provide glimpses into her personal life — including weekends at home in Washington and New York — and into the grinding and sometimes tedious schedule of a secretary of state.

But the huge time gaps between a total of about 300 e-mails, many of which are repeated on page after page as the same messages are forwarded to and from Clinton and among her staffers, indicated that it may not have been her preferred form of communication.

Republicans on the House select committee that has been investigating the Benghazi attacks for the past year seemed to acknowledge the relative lack of new information.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said that it was “important to remember these e-mail messages are just one piece of information that cannot be completely evaluated or fully understood without the total record.”

The e-mails were culled by the State Department from a larger trove of some 55,000 pages that Clinton turned over from the private account she used throughout her time as secretary.

The committee, which received the Libya-related e-mails in February, has asked for the entire collection.

“To assume that a self-selected record is complete, when no one with a duty or responsibility to the public had the ability to take part in the selection, requires a leap in logic no impartial reviewer should be required to make and strains credibility,” Gowdy said in a statement.

The ranking minority member of the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who has been harshly critical of Gowdy, charged him with “dragging out this political charade to harm Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.”

The e-mails were culled by the State Department from a larger trove of some 55,000 pages that Clinton turned over from the private account she used throughout her time as secretary.

The committee, which received the Libya-related e-mails in February, has asked for the entire collection.

“To assume that a self-selected record is complete, when no one with a duty or responsibility to the public had the ability to take part in the selection, requires a leap in logic no impartial reviewer should be required to make and strains credibility,” Gowdy said in a statement.

The ranking minority member of the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who has been harshly critical of Gowdy, charged him with “dragging out this political charade to harm Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.”

At The Daily Beast, Tim Mak notes that there’s little evidence in the material that has been released to support any of the many conspiracy theories that have risen up surrounding the attack:

If Republicans were looking for a silver bullet to use against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the State Department’s Friday document dump about Benghazi wasn’t it.

There’s no illicit weapons Libyan program to be found in the emails, as some have speculated. No ‘stand-down’ order. Just a hectic flow of information to and from Hillary Clinton—about danger, about death, and ultimately, about condolences.

(…)

Throughout the morning after the initial attacks she has a lot of activity: in particular she received a large number of messages expressing condolences to her and the State Department over the death of the ambassador.

“The Ambassador was a perfect role model of the kind of person we need representing us around the world, and the others had so much to give—and already had given so much,” said former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

“What a wonderful, strong and moving statement by your boss. please tell her how much Sen. McCain appreciated it. Me too,” wrote a top national security aide for Sen. John McCain.

That weekend, Clinton continued to exchange emails on the Benghazi issue. On Saturday Sept. 15, the day before Susan Rice appeared on cable shows to make the since-rescinded claim that the Benghazi attacks were the result of protests-turned-violent, Clinton was involved arranging calls from her home and the collection of an action memo via classified courier.

The emails give insight into how Clinton operated at the time: using classified couriers to move memos and getting on the phone with other world leaders, rather than using email.

None of the released emails show Clinton being involved with Rice’s appearance on the Sunday shows, or the discussion of what Rice should say. She does, however, receive a transcript of what Rice would eventually say.

This is only the first batch of Benghazi-related email that is due to be released, but at least so far it does not seem that there’s any evidence of the kind of conspiracy behind the entire event that has been fodder on the right for the better part of two and a half years now. Given the fact that four separate Congressional investigations, and an investigation by the State Department’s Inspector General, has not found any such evidence, this isn’t entirely surprising of course. However, while the emails were still secret there was still plenty of room for people to speculate and to claim that the previous investigations were incomplete. If anything, the material that has been released seems to reinforce the idea that the real problems with what happened in Benghazi are rooted in the entire decision to intervene in the Libyan Civil War and the haphazard way that the United States and the rest of the West treated the post-Gaddafi era in that country, something which helped contribute to turning that nation into the haven for chaos and extremism that is today. There also doesn’t appear to be much evidence to support the idea that Clinton was involved in any effort to cover-up anything in the aftermath of the attack through the drafting of talking points for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice that emphasized the role of an obscure anti-Muslim YouTube video in causing protests that led to the attack.. Again, though, that was something that we already knew thanks to a House Intelligence Committee report that indicated that those talking points were based largely on CIA input and that agency did not change its assessment of the role the film played in the attack until several days after Rice had appeared on the Sunday morning shows.

Again, given the fact that there are still more emails to come out, this will hardly be the end of the Benghazi affair. This is especially true given the fact that it’s been apparent for some time that the House Select Committee investigating the matter is more concerned about the politics of 2016 than anything else. Even with these emails and the others that will follow, which have apparently been available to the committee for some time, there is still the issue of the fact that Clinton was using a private email server for personal correspondence, a move that has led Committee Chair Trey Gowdy and Speaker John Boehner to call on Clinton to make the server available for forensic examination. Through her attorneys, Clinton has refused to comply with this request, which means that we will likely see the House issue a subpoena in the near future that will lead to a legal argument over whether the server should be produced. While these legal machinations are going on, House Republicans will obviously be pointing to the failure to the produce the server to suggest that Clinton has something to hide even though there’s no indication that, at least when it comes to Benghazi, she doesn’t really have anything to hide at all.

While the email released yesterday doesn’t really contain any earth shattering information about Benghazi, The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty notes that they do appear to reveal that Clinton’s management style hasn’t changed much from the days of her dysfunctional Presidential campaign:

For those who have worried that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign would be a repeat of the chaotic operation she ran eight years ago, her advisers have often pointed to her time in between at the State Department — which by comparison was an archetype of crisp managerial efficiency.

But a trove of newly released e-mails suggests that one of Clinton’s tendencies persisted during her time as secretary of state — an inability to separate her longtime loyalties from the business at hand.

The e-mails from her priccount reveal that she passed along no fewer than 25 memos about Libya from friend and political ally Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal had business interests in Libya but no diplomatic expertise there.

Moreover, she did so after the White House had blocked her from hiring Blumenthal at the State Department. The president’s team considered him untrustworthy and prone to starting rumors.

Hers has never been a world that lends itself to an organizational chart. In addition to those who work for Clinton, she maintains a vast network of political allies.

That is not a bad thing in itself. Nor is Clinton the first public official to rely on a kitchen cabinet of advisers, defenders and loyalists.

But as her earlier presidential campaign showed, the environment she creates is one in which lines of authority and decision-making can be undermined by second-guessers and meddlers.

Her back-channel communication with Blumenthal has come to the attention of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. It has subpoenaed Blumenthal to testify in its politically charged investigation of the September 2012 attacks in Libya in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

In the memos, Blumenthal — who was identified to lower-level State Department officials only as “HRC friend” — said the information was “intel,” gathered from sources he described in such breathless terms as “an extremely sensitive source” or “an extremely well-placed individual.”

(…)

Asked by reporters about the e-mails, which were first reported by the New York Times, Clinton noted that she has “many, many old friends.” She added, “When you’re in the public eye, when you’re in an official position, I think you do have to work to ensure that you’re not caught in a bubble. I hear from a certain small group of people and I’m going to continue to talk to my old friends, whoever they are.”

The Clinton campaign tried to put distance between the former secretary of state and the unreliable advisories that she had passed along.

“Sid provided unsolicited thoughts and suggestions to the secretary on a variety of topics. He was not a U.S. government employee nor asked by the secretary to do so,” said her spokesman, Brian Fallon.

(…)

Yet Blumenthal fits a pattern of allies to whom Clinton has long been drawn — those who share her view that she is surrounded by enemies and dark conspiracies.

“She’s not a paranoid person, I don’t think, but she wants some paranoid people around her,” said one former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Clinton’s distaste for those who speak to reporters when not authorized to do so.

On that score, Blumenthal had more than proven himself over the years. Indeed, one of the reasons that the White House objected to putting him at the State Department was that many there believed he had spread toxic rumors about Barack Obama during the lengthy primary battle with Clinton in 2008.

By all accounts, the 2016 Clinton campaign is designed to operate markedly different than the 2008 operation. The question is whether the person at the top of the pyramid has changed very much. These emails would seem to indicate that the answer to that question is no, and while that may not deter her march to the White House it does raise some concerns about what kind of President she would be if she does win. To say the very least, many of the characteristics that Tumulty describes are not desirable in a President.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. wr says:

    Thank you, Doug. That was a fair and reasonable reckoning, clear that it came from someone not inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and yet interested in ferreting out truth.

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  2. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Doug says: “many of the characteristics that Tumulty describes are not desirable in a President.”

    Are you referring to:

    In addition to those who work for Clinton, she maintains a vast network of political allies.

    Clearly undesirable ??? No other candidate would dare to do that!

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  3. Slugger says:

    The more I read about the investigations after investigations after investigations into HRC’s finances, personal relationships, and tenure in several offices, the more amused I become. Surely, Messieurs Starr, Issa, and Gowdy should have been able to find something by now. Not something that can be spun into something wrong, but something real indictable. I shudder to think what my fate would be if all of these resources had been expended on finding some wrong doing on my part.
    My conclusion is that either she is pretty pure, no saint but pretty reasonably pure for an ambitious American politician. Alternatively, she just might be smarter than all of these Republican Inspector Javerts.
    I think that the coyote will catch the roadrunner before real dirt is found on Hillz.

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  4. Mark says:

    I’m so sorry Doug. I know how difficult it must be for you to post even this, it must break your tender, delicate heart. But I’m sure that some day soon something vague and inconclusive about Hillary will pop up and provoke more hypocritical bad faith temper tantrums from you.

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  5. anjin-san says:

    I think the photo with the fire and the spooky orangey glow proves that Hillary is guilty of horrible crimes.

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  6. Argon says:

    I’m shocked!

    Actually, I’d be more shocked if she’d been so amateurish to have been caught. After living under the microscope for about three decades, you’d either be an excellent player or gone. You think the keystone cops like Issa or Starr would be up for the task? Or, considering how so many crazies have been mudding up the water for so long that something could actually be distinctly seen?

    Say what you will about the character of the Clintons, but you gotta admit they are always aided by the vehemence and idiocy of their unwitted enemies. The spectacular collapse of Gingrich was particularly masterful during Bill’s term.

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  7. Tony W says:

    the real problems with what happened in Benghazi are rooted in the entire decision to intervene in the Libyan Civil War and the haphazard way that the United States and the rest of the West treated the post-Gaddafi era in that country, something which helped contribute to turning that nation into the haven for chaos and extremism that is today.

    Unlike the peaceful and love-filled nations of Afghanistan and Iraq, in which we were anything but haphazard in our invasion and occupation.

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  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Let’s see… Hillary and her staff went through the e-mails, turned over copies of the ones that they said were official, and then deleted everything else, presumably all from the “hrc22” account. Then they wiped the server clean, obliterating the hrc account, the only-recently-discovered “hrod17” account, Sidney Blumenthal’s account, and any others that might have been on there.

    The the Obama administration went through the ones turned over, redacted information that they deemed too sensitive (that was stored on a privately-owned and controlled server that was hacked at least once by a foreign national), and released the first batch of e-mails.

    And, astonishingly, there was no smoking gun that got past all that scrutiny.

    Still, quite a bit of rather interesting material was released. For those who don’t have their heads firmly up Hillary’s fundament and have a shred of intellectual curiosity, other pundits have commented on some things that have been released. Like Ace of Spades and Hot Air.

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  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Oh, and Doug: congrats on hopping on to the “no smoking gun” spin/bandwagon so quickly. You were way ahead of the curve on that one. It took Hot Air until this afternoon to pick up on it.

    They also found how Hillary was notified quite early on that the “protests over a YouTube video” story was complete BS, but she let it stand.

    If this is the stuff they are willing to release (on the Friday before a holiday weekend), one can only imagine what didn’t make it past the screening process…

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  10. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Oh, and Doug: congrats on hopping on to the “no smoking gun” spin/bandwagon so quickly. You were way ahead of the curve on that one. It took Hot Air until this afternoon to pick up on it.

    Congratulations on predictably defaulting to the “guilty, guilty, guilty” talking point.

    The Clintons have been the subject of Republican investigation and conspiracy sales for nearly 23 years now, and, with the exception of Bill’s lying about sex, nothing has come of any of the insinuations or allegations of wrongdoing.

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  11. Slugger says:

    Looking at my earlier comment, I think I missed the boat. The problem with these shocking, scandal of the week, terribly shocking revelations of nothing much is that they obscure real questions about Hillary and the other candidates as well.
    I am uneasy about her and wish I knew more about her position on lots of things.
    In Iraq/Syria the US is supporting a Shia central government in one while supporting an insurgency to overthrow the Shia central government in the other. I have not heard her position on this issue. I would like to know the pull weight on her trigger for military intervention.
    In domestic issues, during the 1990’s she was eponymous for increasing the central governments role in health care. Since then two large steps have increased the government control of medicine, the Medicare D law under Bush and the ACA under Obama. Does she think enough has been done or does she plan further steps?
    The presidency is an important big deal. Let’s ask serious questions. There are lots in addition to what I’ve listed.

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  12. Tyrell says:

    Sounds like mundane, ordinary, boring stuff; unless someone is interested in the latest pantsuit styles.

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  13. jukeboxgrad says:

    Jenos:

    They also found how Hillary was notified quite early on that the “protests over a YouTube video” story was complete BS, but she let it stand.

    You are pointing to Hot Air which is pointing to NYT which is pointing to a Blumenthal email which supposedly said something like this:

    Those militants had ties to Al Qaeda, had planned the attacks for a month and had used a nearby protest as cover for the siege

    Except that according to the conservative narrative, there was no “nearby protest.” Oops. Here’s an idea: try to read and comprehend what you’re citing before you cite it.

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  14. junkie the liar says:

    Actually junkie it was planned ten days in advance. There was no protest…(although i can’t count how many times you said there was one)…Zero never called it terrorism…and it had nothing to do with a you tube video…despite your claims that it was their motivation. Guns and weapons were being run…

    The attack was planned ten or more days prior on approximately 01 September 2012. The intention was to attack the consulate and to kill as many Americans as possible to seek revenge for U.S. killing of Aboyahiye ((ALALIBY)) in Pakistan and in memorial of the 11 September 2001 atacks on the World Trade Center buildings.Weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the Port of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The weapons shipped during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125 mm and 155mm howitzers missiles.

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  15. jukeboxgrad says:

    The attack was planned ten or more days prior

    The original CIA memo said this:

    We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo

    “The protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” is an obvious reference to the video, because those protests were undoubtedly about the video. And the 2014 Senate report said essentially the same thing:

    Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning … Intelligence suggests that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic

    So both these sources say there wasn’t much planning, and both these sources reference the video, either directly or indirectly. Also, from the 2014 GOP report:

    Libya was, and remains, a chaotic place replete with skilled, armed fighters. As former CIA Director General David Petraeus explained, these groups retained their weapons and therefore did not need a lot of lead time to prepare attacks. The sophistication of the attacks does not necessarily imply lengthy pre-planning.

    Here’s an idea: consider reading these reports before you embarrass yourself further.

    Zero never called it terrorism

    On 9/18/12, Obama said this:

    Extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the consulate in Libya

    During the debate Mitt said this:

    for two weeks the President declined to call it terrorism

    Explain how what Mitt said was something other than a lie. He lied, just like you just did.

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  16. Tyrell says:

    It is common for released government documents, emails, records, and files to have portions blacked out, edited, or changed. So Hillary is not doing anything different. In the past this has happened with files relating to the Kennedy assassination, Roswell, and the Kecksburg incident (military takes over PA town).
    The big issue here is not missing emails or the reason for the attack. Those are sideshows. What needs to be addressed and soon are the people who planned and carried out the attack.
    When will a trial begin ? Why haven’t more of those responsible not been apprehended ? Why has Sec. Kerry not addressed this ?

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:

    What needs to be addressed and soon are the people who planned and carried out the attack.
    When will a trial begin ? Why haven’t more of those responsible not been apprehended ?

    Dude, Libya is kind of busy having a civil war at the moment.

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  18. stonetools says:

    The only thing the Clinton emails prove is that once again,there is no evidence that Clinton did anything wrong pertaining to the Benghazi incident. It don’t think it really proves anything about Clinton’s character. Ms. Tumulty ( and Doug) just wanted to say something speculative about Clinton, so they wrote up something. If you gaze long enough into the abyss, you will see something, I guess.

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  19. de stijl says:

    @Tyrell:

    What needs to be addressed and soon are the people who planned and carried out the attack.
    When will a trial begin ? Why haven’t more of those responsible not been apprehended ? Why has Sec. Kerry not addressed this ?

    You do realize that US law does not apply in Libya? That the actions in Benghazi are subject to Libyan justice and not to American justice? That US law officers have zero jurisdiction in Libya? That there needs to be a functional Libyan government to accept and agree to a US request for extradition? That there needs to to be a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship between the US and the non-existent functional Libyan government before they will consider a request for extradition?

    You are living in a comic book understanding of the world. The Avengers are fictional. The X-Men won’t save our bacon.

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  20. jukeboxgrad says:

    You are living in a comic book understanding of the world.

    As commenter Mantis (why did he disappear?) said to Tyrell when he made the same stupid remark in 2013:

    Sorry Tyrell, but Team America: World Police is a fictional group.

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  21. de stijl says:

    @Tyrell:

    the Kecksburg incident (military takes over PA town).

    Do you listen to a lot of Alex Jones? Is Infowars one of of you trusted alternative media sources?

    If so, you may want to rethink your news consumption habits.

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  22. de stijl says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    Sorry Tyrell, but Team America: World Police is a fictional group.

    I hate it when some random dude does that perfect drive-by comment and says something that I tried to say, and meant to say, much better and much more succinctly than I could.

    Screw that Mantis guy!

    I’m so ronery.

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  23. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell doesn’t bother me. I think he’s poorly-informed but not malicious or an a-hole. @Jenos is infinitely worse. He’s the classic case of No-evidence-equals-proof-of-conspiracy type. The less the facts support him the more he’s convinced he’s right. But like many people who fall down that rabbit hole he’s bright enough to know better.

    Once again: ideology is the great crippler of young minds. If you’re thinking of choosing an ideology and intend to hew faithfully to it, just buy an ice pick and stab it randomly into your brain. The net effect is the same.

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  24. de stijl says:

    Test

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  25. jukeboxgrad says:

    Test

    Are you getting stuck in moderation? Are you trying to reply to me using the Reply feature? Don’t do that.

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  26. de stijl says:

    jukeboxgrad:

    Are you trying to reply to me using the Reply feature? Don’t do that.

    Test again

    Why does replying to you trigger the spam filter / stuck in moderation message?

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  27. de stijl says:

    jukeboxgrad:

    Sorry Tyrell, but Team America: World Police is a fictional group.

    No worries about the reply snafu. What I was trying to say was:

    I hate it when folks say the same thing I was trying to say, and meant to say, better, faster, and funnier than I did.

    Screw that Mantis guy!

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  28. jukeboxgrad says:

    Why does replying to you trigger the spam filter / stuck in moderation message?

    I have no idea. It’s been this way for years. It seems to not always happen, but it’s pretty common; that’s why I was able to guess your problem. Maybe it only happens with certain browsers.

    The simple solution is to just reply to me without using the Reply feature.

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  29. jukeboxgrad says:

    I hate it when folks say the same thing I was trying to say, and meant to say, better, faster, and funnier than I did.

    I know what you mean. My approach to that situation is to borrow the quote and use it myself, in the future. That’s why I had his quote handy, because I’ve quoted him a bunch of times. No point reinventing the wheel when I can quote someone else who did it better.

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  30. de stijl says:

    jukeboxgrad:

    I know what you mean.

    My new approach will be to write what comes naturally and then drag it through the “Shorter” translator, apply the “Funny” filter, pencil in some stink lines, and call it a day.

    It would be pretty cool if Google actually had those features. Someday, they will.

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  31. Tyrell says:

    @de stijl: Thanks for your reply. See Kecksburg documentaries on Discovery Channel, a credible and trusted information site. I remember this incident very well. Information managed to get out in spite of government attempts to stop it.
    These are the facts: In December of 1965 some kind of object crashed near the town of Kecksburg, PA at night. Military forces moved in, but not before several people saw the object. The military (most did not have name tags or service patches on their uniforms) sealed off the site. What followed was an illegal takeover of a US town. Reporters had their cameras, film, and notes seized. Witnesses were pushed around, threatened, and detained without any legal authority. Property was seized and controlled – unconstitutional. The object was taken away on a military flatbed hauler, covered up with a tarp. Later the “official” story from the government was that the object was a meteorite ! But all witnesses had described a bell shaped object with strange letters on it !
    Since that time more people have come forward with their stories, inspite of threats from these unidentified military people.
    I am not saying this is a craft from outer space. It could very well have been a Russian craft. The point is that the federal government still keeps a lot of this a secret and has released documents that have obviously been edited and parts deleted. The lesson: when something like this happens, get live tv there quick and keep the military out as long as possible.
    I have not had time to go through updated information about this. More people are coming forward and talking. I don’t go to Alex Jones’ site.

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  32. pylon says:

    @Tyrell:

    Is that the same Discovery Channel that airs “credible and trusted” shows like the one with fake evidence of megaladon’s persent day existence? Amish mafia? Eaten alive?

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  33. gVOR08 says:

    an obscure anti-Muslim YouTube video

    Obscure?
    How many demonstrations and riots did it in fact spawn? How much news coverage did it get? How many column inches did you devote to it, Doug?

    No smoking gun. In other news, water is still wet.

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  34. bookdragon says:

    @Tyrell: I think I remember that incident in PA from a Star Trek: Enterprise episode…. whaddya know? Maybe Vulcans really exist…

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  35. al-Ameda says:

    I’m reminded of the old SNL (fake) news rejoinder, “and in breaking news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead …” Yes, in breaking news, Hillary Clinton is still under investigation, and still not guilty of …. anything ….

    The ongoing 25 year obsession with investigation of the Clintons says a lot more about the character of the Republican Party and those conservatives who claim not to be Republicans than it does about the Clintons.

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