Sunday, October 25, 2015

Still waiting for the truth

October 23, 2015

Twenty-five minutes before the start of Thursday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Charles Woods stood alone behind the witness table, marveling at the chaos around him. A gaggle of still photographers was rehearsing their movements for the arrival of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Young people in smart outfits scurried about with stern looks on their faces, as if the urgency of their movement reflected the importance of their various errands. 
Woods, a handsome man with a shock of near-white hair, wore a black suit and yellow and black flowered tie in the style of his native Hawaii. He was nearly run over by a young woman in heels and in a hurry, who scowled at him briefly for standing in the aisle as she maneuvered around him, a look she probably wouldn’t have given him if she’d had any idea who he was and why he was here. 
Woods is the father of Tyrone Woods, a retired Navy Seal killed in the attacks on Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Shortly before the hearing began, I asked him what he hoped to learn from the hearing. 
“The truth, hopefully,” he said, not sounding hopeful at all.
He was right to be skeptical. 
Charles Woods has been waiting a long time for the truth. He met his son’s body at Joint Base Andrews, three days after the attacks, at a solemn ceremony in just outside Washington, D.C. He first met Clinton at that brief memorial service. He remembers it well, in part, he says, because he took notes immediately after he spoke with her. 
When I asked him about that day as we waited for the hearing to begin, he pulled a small leather black datebook from his pocket – maybe the size of a calculator, with 2012 engraved in gold on the front – as he recalled her words. He began reading from the entry that started on September 14, the day of the ceremony, and continued into the space for the following day. It ran just five or six lines, written in pencil.
He recorded Clinton’s exact words. “We are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of your son,” he read. Then he looked up. “I remember those words: ‘who was responsible for the death of your son.’ She was blaming him and blaming the movie.”
Woods was skeptical at the time that she was telling the truth. His doubts were validated with each new revelation of the administration’s post-attack dissembling. But he was shocked by what he learned in the hearing Thursday. 
At 11:12 p.m. on September 11, 2012, the night of the attacks, Hillary Clinton wrote to her daughter, Chelsea, and noted that the compound in Benghazi had been attacked by “an al Quaeda-like group.” She did not mention a video, as she had in her public statement, released by the State Department an hour earlier. 
The following day, September 12, 2012, Clinton spoke with Egyptian prime minister Hesham Kandil. Their discussion was captured by a State Department note-taker, whose job is to record conversations among high-level diplomats by producing a near-verbatim summary. 
“We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film,” Clinton explained to Kandil, according to the State Department memo. “It was a planned attack – not a protest.” 
Within 36 hours of the attack, Clinton had privately contradicted what would become the three main components of the Obama administration’s post-attack narrative. Clinton said “it was a planned attack,” but the administration publicly claimed it was a “spontaneous demonstration” that spun out of control. Clinton said an “al Qaeda-like group” had conducted the attacks, but the administration publicly downplayed ties to al Qaeda. And Clinton said the attack “had nothing to do with the film,” but the administration publicly built its case around the claim that the video was central to the attacks. 
Those words hit Woods like a punch to the gut. “That was two days before she told me that they would get the filmmaker,” he said during a break in the hearing after those revelations. 
In a hearing that lasted from mid-morning well into the evening, the truth was an afterthought. The coverage of the hearings – from the earliest tweets to the final page-one wraps – focused almost entirely on the style of Clinton’s performance rather than the substance of her testimony. And it must be said: She was impressive. Clinton was unflappable even as some Republicans on the panel took gratuitous shots at her, spun personal theories about her motives, and even questioned whether she cared about the fate of the survivors of those attacks. But she was “impressive” only if the words that passed her lips were immaterial to evaluating her overall presentation.
Clinton misled the committee on topics big and small, on issues crucial to the inquiry and irrelevant to it. 
*She called the Accountability Review Board “nonpartisan” and “independent.” It was neither. Clinton hand-picked the co-chairmen. They never interviewed her and never saw her emails. They provided a draft copy of the final report to Clinton’s chief of staff for editing and tipped off the State Department about potentially problematic witnesses. 
*Clinton downplayed her role in Libya policymaking, suggesting she was just a bit player in Obama’s decision to intervene. But an email from Jake Sullivan, a senior Clinton adviser, laid out her “leadership on Libya.” 
*Clinton once again claimed that emails to her from Sidney Blumenthal were “unsolicited.” Asked to define “unsolicited,” Clinton explained: “It means I did not ask him to send” the emails. But her responses repeatedly show her soliciting more information from Blumenthal. In a July 7, 2012, email to Blumenthal, she writes: “...and thanks for keeping this stuff coming.” 
*Clinton said of Blumenthal’s commercial pursuits in Libya: “I did not know anything of his business interests.” But Blumenthal laid out those interests in an email to Clinton previewing an upcoming meeting she was to have. Clinton’s response to that email indicates that she was not only aware of his business interests, she was eager to help further them. She wrote: “Anything else to convey?”
*Clinton testified that Blumenthal was neither an “official or unofficial” adviser and said he “wasn’t advising me.” But Clinton testified Thursday that she found Blumenthal’s information “useful.” She regularly sent Blumenthal’s information on to others in the Obama administration, often with instructions to follow up on those emails. Blumenthal’s thoughts were included in Clinton’s public remarks and her private correspondence. Top Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan wrote to Clinton: “The speechwriting crew is taking Sid’s points below and massaging them into a set of remarks.”
*Clinton claims that there was no classified information at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi. And she downplays suggestions that there was “sensitive” information there either. It depends how you define “sensitive,” she said. But the Washington Post reported: "More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the remains of the U.S. mission."
*Gowdy asked Clinton whether the Accountability Review Board had access to her emails. The correct answer is the obvious one: “No.” But when Gowdy asked Clinton, she disingenously left open the possibility that they had.
*Clinton claimed her emails about Libya with Blumenthal were not work-related. But emails show that Blumethal’s emails a offered policy advice on Libya and often shared them with senior State Department officials. The question isn’t whether those emails were “work-related” – they surely were. The question is what other work-related emails Clinton kept private with the claim that they were merely “personal.” 
As the hearings wore on, Charles Woods took a philosophical, generous and somewhat bemused attitude towards Clinton.
“Who said it, Mark Twain?” he asked. 
“‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’”

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