Column: Partisan-driven questioning weakened Benghazi testimony

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, looks down during questioning on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thurs., Oct. 22 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. (AP)

Last week Hillary Clinton testified once more before the House Committee investigating the Benghazi attack of 2012. The demeanor of her testimony was restrained, she answered questions well, and it seems safe to say that she has emerged from her grueling eleven hours of testimony unscathed.

Many argue that Benghazi is a false scandal stirred up by Republican congressmen in an attempt to derail Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid. In this case, that statement is only partly true.

There is evidence to strongly suggest the government deliberately misled the American people on a question of national security for political reasons, which is justifiably scandalous. That being said, the House Committee has unquestionably allowed partisan energy and a desire to hurt Clinton to infect its proceedings, thereby undermining their credibility.

On Sept. 14, 2012, then White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated regarding the attack, “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack…it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy.”

Carney made this assertion despite the fact that, as reported by The New York Times “within 24 hours of the attack, the C.I.A.’s station chief in Tripoli, Libya, emailed headquarters that witnesses said the assault was mounted by heavily armed militants.”

The Libyan president also vehemently denied that the attacks evolved out of spontaneous protest, calling that idea “completely unfounded and preposterous. We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack.”

When pressed on the nature of the attack, Carney backtracked, saying the attack was still under investigation, despite his previous unequivocal statement that the attack “is in response not to United States policy, not to obviously the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video.”

Later that day, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes sent an email describing one of the goals of media talking points as follows: “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”  

On September 16, then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice claimed, “What this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what happened, transpired in Cairo.”

The administration was adamant in telling the American people the attack was spontaneous and unpredictable, clearly to prevent any criticism of President Obama’s counterterrorism policies. This happened in the context of the impending 2012 presidential election, when President Obama’s twin campaign planks were recovery at home and victory over terrorism abroad. Remember, Osama bin Laden had just been killed and ISIS had yet to emerge as a global threat.

Last week, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan questioned Hillary Clinton on an email she sent to the prime minister of Egypt which said, “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack, not a protest.”

When pressed on this issue by Jordan, Clinton said, “there was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of. The situation was very fluid.”

This information raises concerns, perhaps most importantly the question of why our secretary of state was writing in private correspondence to a foreign dignitary the complete opposite of what the White House was saying publicly.

Furthermore, her claims that there was conflicting information at the time was not reflected in the repeated confident assertions of the White House that the attack was spontaneously inspired by a video. It is not partisan to find these facts deeply disturbing. 

However, the Republican’s excessively hostile tone and line of questioning has undermined any hopes of an evenhanded and fair investigation. They have consistently treated Secretary Clinton with an alarming degree of personal disrespect.

Instead of focusing the investigation on what can most generously be called the government’s reckless misinformation of the American people on an issue of national security, the committee has thrown all manner of attacks and criticisms toward her, regardless of their merit. The excessive focus on Clinton herself destroys the credibility of the committee.

The one likely scandal, the government’s questionable motive for the persistent “video tape” narrative, should not require such extensive testimony from the former Secretary of State.

If this committee were focusing on the one truly concerning issue regarding Benghazi, it would be spending its time investigating White House staffers and intelligence officials, not Hillary Clinton.

Due to the committee’s overzealous and partisan bungling of this investigation, the American people have heard far too much hot rhetoric about Hillary Clinton, and far too little substantive questioning.


Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at brian.mccarty@uconn.edu.