hillary-benghazi-select-panel

Hillary Clinton testifies Oct. 22, 2015, before the House Select Committee on Benghazi

WASHINGTON – In dueling opening statements, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., preceded the much-awaited testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a debate over whether the hearing was a pursuit for the truth of what happened in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens or a Republican witch hunt designed to derail Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

“Questions linger because previous investigations were not thorough,” Gowdy said. “This investigation is the first to review 50,000 relevant documents because we insisted they be produced, from the State Department, the Department of Defense, the CIA and even the White House, and the first to examine Secretary Clinton’s emails sent over a private server.”

Gowdy argued that if previous investigations were serious and thorough, “Why did they fail to examine Ambassador Stevens’ and Secretary Clinton’s emails, and interview witnesses present at Benghazi during the attack?”

Gowdy assured Clinton the investigation was not about her, but about the “fundamental obligation of government to tell the truth” about what happened to Stevens and the three other Americans who died in the Benghazi attack.

Find out what really happened: Aaron Klein’s “The REAL Benghazi Story” exposes the ongoing cover-up

In his opening statement, Gowdy also explained that the delay in calling Clinton as a witness was caused by the discovery in March that she had a private email server, causing the panel to subpoena and review relevant emails she sent and received on the private server.

“It was a lousy way to run an investigation to proceed without Ambassador Stevens’ emails and yours,” Gowdy charged, citing the previous investigations into the Benghazi attack, including the one conducted by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board.

Cummings charged in his opening statement that the “problem was the Republican caucus did not like the conclusions of the previous investigations.”

“So Republicans set up this select committee with an unlimited budget, unlimited time and no rules, and they set it loose to focus on Secretary Clinton because she was running for president.”

Cummings cited House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s statement in an interview that the Benghazi committee helped drive down Clinton’s polling numbers in the presidential race.

He argued that Clinton was testifying alone, without being accompanied by the secretary of defense and the head of the CIA, because the investigation was not an independent, bipartisan effort to find the truth but a political charade to discredit Clinton with “wild Republican claims.”

“The select committee has spent 17 months and $4.7 million, and all we have obtained are some emails from Ambassador Stevens and Secretary Clinton that only confirm the conclusions of the previous eight investigations,” Cummings concluded.

In her opening statement, Clinton said, “I’m here to honor the service of Ambassador Stevens and the other three brave Americans who lost their lives at Benghazi.

“I knew Ambassador Stevens, and he found his way to get into Libya to work with those brave Libyans opposing the murderous Gadhafi regime by entering Benghazi in a Greek cargo ship. Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.”

What do YOU think? Any shocking revelations at Benghazi hearing? Sound off in today’s WND poll

Clinton admits she owned U.S. military strategy in Benghazi

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., began the questioning by asking Clinton why she pressed for military action to oust Gadhafi when many in the State Department and the White House cautioned that U.S. military action risked destabilizing Libya for the benefit of the radical Islamic militia operating in the country.

“This was a difficult decision, and there was disagreement within the administration, but we recommended military action to the president because of the appeals of our NATO allies to join them in a military capacity,” Clinton said.

“I was in favor of the United States joining with our European partners and obtaining United Nations support of military action in Libya,” Clinton finally conceded, admitting she “owned” U.S. military policy in Libya.

She was responding to documentation Roskam produced showing she persuaded Russia not to exercise a Security Council veto to prevent the United States from joining NATO in air attacks against Gadhafi.

In response to initial questioning by Cummings, Clinton argued she left decisions about security measures at the CIA compound in Benghazi to security experts within the State Department. She suggested she was not personally involved in approving or denying the numerous requests Stevens made prior to the attack for additional security at Benghazi.

“I was not going to second guess or substitute my judgment for theirs on keeping people safe,” Clinton argued, agreeing with Cummings that the Accountability Review Board had named specific officials within the State Department that denied the requests, finding no evidence Clinton reviewed the requests.

Beginning her questioning, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., displayed two piles of printed email messages as evidence Clinton’s attention to Stevens and Libya had diminished in the months prior to the attack.

“This pile of 795 represents your emails regarding Libya in 2011, including sometimes daily updates to you from your senior staff regarding Ambassador Stevens’ concerns over Libya, and this pile represents the 69 emails in 2012,” she said.

“What were you personally briefed before you sent Ambassador Stevens into Benghazi?” Brooks asked. “Gadhafi fell in 2011, but the situation fell off your radar after that, even though the security situation was getting much more severe. This was an important mission in 2011, but when a bomb exploded at the U.S. compound at Benghazi in April and June 2012, there is not a single email from you addressing the attacks on our Benghazi compounds in Libya.”

Clinton replied: “I was told it was expeditionary diplomacy and that Ambassador Stevens would have to make judgments on the ground.

“We knew this was a risky operation,” she said. “But our initial decision was for Stevens to stay in Libya for 30 days. I did not do a lot of my work by email with my closest aids and top officials in the Department of State, the Pentagon and the White House. A lot of information about threats and attacks was shared in meetings and in classified memo.”

She said there was “never a recommendation from any knowledgeable official to shut down the U.S. compound at Benghazi.”

Attention to Libya diminished after Gadhafi ouster

The GOP members of the select committee in the initial round of the hearing established that while Clinton “takes responsibility” for the Benghazi attack, the documentary evidence shows she paid less attention to Libya in 2012, after the ouster of Gadhafi, than she did in 2011, when she “owned” U.S. military policy in there and pushed the Obama administration and the United Nations to support military action to oust Gadhafi.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., cited a State Department memo that indicated in 2012 Clinton did not know for certain whether on not the U.S. still had a compound in Benghazi or whether the Benghazi compound was in lock-down because of terrorist threats.

“How can it be that two of your staffers are emailing each other making it clear in 2012 that you were not sure we even had a presence in Benghazi,” Roby asked, “when you have testified how concerned you were about Benghazi in 2012?”

Clinton insisted she remained interested in Benghazi in 2012 prior to the attack, despite the email evidence her staff was questioning Clinton’s awareness and knowledge of the U.S. presence in Benghazi during that time.

“I can’t speak to what someone in the State Department heard or misheard,” Clinton said, asking what names were on the email. “These were people in the State Department but not on my staff, and, despite the email, I was concerned about Benghazi in 2012. Obviously, much of the work was going through the embassy in Tripoli. Chris Stevens believed the Benghazi compound should be an embassy, but that decision had not been made by the time of the attack.”

Brooks replied: “It’s frustrating to hear you in your opening statement say you take responsibility for the attack, but you brush off this email by saying you don’t know why these two State Department employees would exchange an email asking whether or not you were aware that the U.S. had a compound in Benghazi.”

What did Clinton know and when did she know it?

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., focused attention on the fact the Benghazi compound had been attacked twice before the Sept. 11, 2012, assault that killed Ambassador Stevens.

“The question is not whether you knew the Benghazi compound had been attacked twice in 2012 prior to the 9/11 attack, but what did you do about those attacks,” Westmoreland said.

“I was briefed and aware of the increasingly dangerous upsurge of militant activity in Libya,” Clinton said.

“Why is it the security in Benghazi in 2012 was worse than it was prior to the revolution?” the Republican congressman asked. “Mr. Morrell in his book says there were a total of 20 attacks on the Benghazi compound before the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, not two attacks. Were you aware of this?”

Westmoreland reclaimed his time, interrupting what apparently he considered a non-respondent answer by Clinton.

“What would it have taken – 30, 40 incidents or more – before you provided additional security for your good friend, Chris Stevens?” he asked.

Clinton responded: “We have a process at the State Department, and the security experts that I have the greatest confidence in, with the experience of many different security assignments, in Iraq, Afghanistan, never came to me to suggest we should shut down the compound at Benghazi.”

Westmoreland countered: “I’m not asking about shutting down the Benghazi facility. What I’m asking is why you didn’t provide more protection for the compound when Ambassador Stevens was indicating he felt the compound was becoming unsafe.

“You got a lot of emails from Blumenthal, and you say he was a personal friend of yours, and he had your personal email,” Westmoreland said. “If I was your friend, Chris Stevens, and I had your personal email, I would have requested you do something about security at Benghazi.”

“I don’t believe Chris Stevens had my personal email,” Clinton said. “Yes, Chris Stevens requested more security, and we are examining the record to see what more can be done in situations where the State Department gets these requests. I did have a chance to talk with Chris about policy, but he took the security requests to the part of the State Department where those requests belonged.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., followed up by asking Clinton why no one at the State Department was fired for failing to carry out their responsibilities to protect Stevens.

“I’m asking what you did,” Pompeo pressed. “You’re telling me you lacked the authority to take disciplinary action against any State Department employee. As a result of the processes you put in place, there was no disciplinary action taken, but all State Department employees under investigation over the Benghazi attack were returned to full pay.”

Pompeo showed requests from State Department officials in Libya had reached a peak of more than 600 requests, yet security at Benghazi was not increased.

“Those requests did not reach my desk,” Clinton asserted.

“Security requests from your professionals did not reach your desk, but all the emails from Sid Blumenthal, a man who had never been to Libya, all those emails reached your desk and you asked Blumenthal to send more,” Westmoreland countered. “Why is that?”

“As you are aware, Sid Blumenthal is a friend of mine, but he had no official position in the government,” Clinton answered

Westmoreland replied: “I have a lot of friends, but none of them send me classified information in emails. The record we have before us contradicts your answers.”

Westmoreland produced a photograph of top members of Ansar Al-Sharia, the al-Qaida-affiliated militia believed to have led the attack against the U.S. compound in Benghazi, and pressed Clinton. She admitted she had no idea Stevens was meeting with members of al-Qaida-related militia in Benghazi within 48 hours of the attack.

Fireworks over ‘lie’ Benghazi attack was movie protest

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, referenced Clinton emails sent while the Benghazi attack was occurring that suggested the attack was in response to an anti-Muhammad movie. In contrast, he said, an email Clinton sent to her family and a conversation with the Egyptian prime minister the next day made clear the State Department knew it was an attack not a protest.

“We now know that narrative is false,” Jordan pointed out, “so what troubles me is the documentary evidence shows U.S. diplomats in Cairo were emailing that the attack had nothing to do with the movie. If the State Department knew the truth, why was Ambassador Rice sent to the Sunday programs to say the 9/11 attack on Benghazi was a protest against the movie?”

Jordan cut Clinton’s answer short to show a slide from Clinton’s press secretary the night of the 9/11 attack indicating the State Department was aware of the political consequences of the Obama administration admitting the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack.

“You can tell the truth like you told your family and the Egyptian government that it was a terror attack, or you could have said we weren’t sure, but what you chose to do was political,” he said. “Only 56 days from the election, you knew a terrorist attack in Benghazi would hurt you in the election. You could tell your family and the Egyptian government the truth, but you couldn’t tell the American people the truth.”

Clinton said she wrote a whole chapter in her book about the Benghazi attack.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we did the best with what information we had that night,” Clinton said, suggesting one of the terrorists arrested for the Benghazi attack still claims he was motivated by the movie. “When I was speaking to the Egyptian prime minister, we had been told by Ansar al-Sharia that they were responsible for the attack. They subsequently retracted that statement. But I needed to be talking about the video, because in Tunis there were massive protests over the movie.”

“I’m sorry if the facts don’t fit your narrative,” Clinton countered to Jordan’s insistence he was not creating a narrative but was quoting Clinton’s own words from the emails she and her press secretary were circulating the night of the 9/11 attack.

Resuming the questioning, Gowdy made clear that Clinton and Blumenthal exchanged many emails, even though Blumenthal held no government position, even though Blumenthal at the time worked for the Clinton Foundation, even though Blumenthal worked for leftist partisan groups such as Media Matters.

“What did you mean by asking Blumenthal, ‘What are you hearing now?’” Gowdy asked, questioning whether the emails exchanged with Blumenthal were unsolicited.

“They started out unsolicited,” Clinton answered.

Gowdy pointed out that Clinton’s testimony was not precisely that the emails with Blumenthal “started out” unsolicited, but that they were unsolicited.

“Are you aware Blumenthal did not write the cables he discussed with you in his emails?’ Gowdy pressed.

“I knew he had intelligence sources,” Clinton admitted, only to say she could not identify Blumenthal’s sources.

“If you want to determine Blumenthal’s credibility, wouldn’t you want to know the source of his information?” Gowdy continued, fully aware that the White House had blocked Blumenthal from getting a State Department job because of Blumenthal’s partisan role providing opposition research to Hillary regarding Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. “Did the president know Blumenthal was your most prolific email source?”

Hillary indicated she did not know if President Obama knew of her email correspondence with Blumenthal.

Gowdy then read to Hillary a series of Blumenthal emails in which Blumenthal belittled President Obama and various Obama appointments to key places in the government, including the White House.

“Blumenthal had passed no background check, was critical of President Obama, gave you political advice, all the while working for the Clinton Foundation and a questionable news source, but he had unlimited access to you,” Gowdy continued.

“I don’t see how this helps us get to the bottom of why four brave Americans died at Benghazi,” Clinton asserted.

“I will be happy to assist you there, Madam Secretary,” Gowdy countered.

Gowdy concluded by stating the Blumenthal emails were relevant because Blumenthal’s emails were sent to Ambassador Stevens asking for comment on Blumenthal’s emails.

Cummings intervened to assert Gowdy made “several inaccurate statements” over the past few months attacking Clinton prior to the hearing.

“You issued a subpoena to Mr. Blumenthal compelling him testimony,” Cummings continued. “You personally attended Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition and you personally asked questions about the Clinton Foundation.”

Unsolicited emails?

Resuming the questioning, Gowdy made clear that Clinton and Blumenthal exchanged many emails, even though Blumenthal held no government position and at the time worked for the Clinton Foundation and the leftist group Media Matters.

“What did you mean by asking Blumenthal ‘What are you hearing now?’” Gowdy asked, questioning whether the emails exchanged with Blumenthal were unsolicited.

“They started out unsolicited,” Clinton answered.

Gowdy pointed out that Clinton’s testimony was not precisely that the emails with Blumenthal “started out” unsolicited but that they were unsolicited.

“Are you aware Blumenthal did not write the cables he discussed with you in his emails?’ Gowdy pressed.

“I knew he had intelligence sources,” Clinton admitted, only to say she could not identify Blumenthal’s sources.

“If you want to determine Blumenthal’s credibility, wouldn’t you want to know the source of his information?” Gowdy continued, fully aware that the White House had blocked Blumenthal from getting a State Department job because of his partisan role providing opposition research to Clinton regarding Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“Did the president know Blumenthal was your most prolific email source?”

Hillary said she did not know.

Gowdy then read to her a series of Blumenthal emails in which Blumenthal belittled Obama and various Obama appointments to key places in the government, including the White House.

“Blumenthal had passed no background check, was critical of President Obama, gave you political advice, all the while working for the Clinton Foundation and a questionable news source, but he had unlimited access to you,” Gowdy continued.

“I don’t see how this helps us get to the bottom of why four brave Americans died at Benghazi,” Clinton asserted.

“I will be happy to assist you there, madam secretary,” Gowdy countered.

Gowdy insisted the Blumenthal emails were relevant because they were forwarded to Ambassador Stevens asking for comment.

Cummings intervened to assert Gowdy made “several inaccurate statements” over the past few months attacking Clinton prior to the hearing.

“You issued a subpoena to Mr. Blumenthal compelling him testimony,” Cummings continued. “You personally attended Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition and you personally asked questions about the Clinton Foundation.”

Gowdy said it “looks like certain things got straight to your in-box and requests for security did not.”

“Did you personally review our security situation in Benghazi?”

Clinton answered: “Personal email came to my personal account. Work email came to may personal account. As far as I know, Chris Stevens did not raise the issue of security with me. Sid Blumenthal was not my adviser, personal or official, on Benghazi. He was not an official of the United States government. He was trying to be helpful. Some of his information was helpful, some was not.”

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., asked Clinton what her plans were regarding the mission of Benghazi in 2012.

“In the fall of 2011, a discussion was going on in the State Department and the intelligence community, and there was a dispute within the Transnational Council whether the government would be split between Tripoli and Benghazi,” Clinton explained. “We, including Chris Stevens, wanted to maintain a presence in Benghazi even after we reopened our embassy in Tripoli.”

“I assume your chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, was intimately involved in these discussions?” Brooks asked.

Clinton responded that Mills had many responsibilities, after which Brooks produced a memo from Mills recommending no consulate be established in Benghazi in 2016.

“If Benghazi had been a consulate, it would have had a different level of security than if it was a compound?” Brooks continued. “You went to Tripoli in October 2011. Did Chris Stevens join you at that time?”

“I don’t recall,” Clinton responded. “I went to meet with Ambassador Kretz. He had reported very accurately about Gadhafi and his henchmen. We were trying very hard to get the people in positions of authority to work with us on a wide range of issues, including disarming the militias.”

Brooks pointed out that the select committee does not have all of Chris Stevens’ emails, with the State Department delivering 1,300 emails from Stevens just this week.

While Hillary tried to characterize a Stevens email as good-humored, Brooks pointed out that when Stevens suggested he was picking up “fire sale” items from a terror attack on the British embassy, the reference was to barricades that the State Department had not supplied for defending the Benghazi compound, as Stevens had requested.

“Were you in the meetings about extending Benghazi through the end of the year?” Brooks asked.

Clinton did not answer directly, saying she was aware such meetings were going on at the end of 2011 in the State Department.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., established with Clinton that Stevens did not have her cell phone number, her email address, her fax machine or her home address, although Sid Blumenthal did.

“In 1998, the Accountability Review Board recommended the secretary of state should personally review embassy security and determine whether the facility should be closed,” Pompeo noted. “How do you reconcile that with your testimony you were not involved in assessing security requests for Benghazi?”

“I closed embassies and recommended that embassies and facilities should be closed, but it wasn’t my job to review every request for a wall or other security measures,” Clinton responded. “With regard to the 1998 ARB recommendation, I created a new position of a deputy secretary for resources and management. So this was a constant discussion about making us secure, but not a discussion from the secretary of state about how high the barricades should be, that was the proper provenance of the Department of State security experts.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.