If there’s to be an end to the assault on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (HRC) character, don’t expect it to come in significant advance of the November 2016 presidential election. Conservatives in and out of government are enjoying a good bit of success baking into the voting public’s consciousness the idea that the former First Lady is untrustworthy and therefore, ill-suited for the highest office in the land.
This all began with the terrorists’ killing of four of our State Department personnel who were stationed in Benghazi, Libya. There was a legitimate need to determine how this could have happened; was there criminal negligence or some other form of malfeasance on someone’s part? As unfounded accusations, conspiracy theories and the like enjoyed big splashes in the media, Congress got down to work seeking answers. To that end, at various times during the ensuing many months, eight separate, independent committees began investigations.
Well ahead of the date of this blog, every one of those groups officially concluded that while the deaths of the four State Department employees was certainly tragic, and possibly even preventable, there were no findings of criminal wrongdoing, negligence or malfeasance on the part of HRC. That is where the matter could have ended. But, it did not.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Boehner decided that the work of the eight committees had not provided a “full account” of what happened in Benghazi and that further inquiry was needed (1). Accordingly, he established a Select Committee to probe deeper into this matter. That was in May 2014 and the group, composed of both Republicans and Democrats, has been engaged ever since.
Over the course of the committee’s activities, it has been supplied with thousands of pages of documents supplied by both the State Department and the CIA, all supposedly pertinent to what happened in Benghazi. Various witnesses have been called to give sworn testimony. All those individuals have been forthcoming; none have exercised their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
Early on in the committee’s work, and in the same vein, HRC expressed a willingness to testify herself in an open hearing. After a long delay, she was scheduled to appear this coming October. However, in the time that has elapsed since the committee’s origin, its focus has gradually shifted away from Benghazi but without any provisional public declaration of findings. Now, attention is being directed towards the possibility that HRC may have compromised national security by using a single, personal server to communicate both State Department as well as personal business.
It has already been ascertained that HRC was legally free to do this. But complications arose when it was learned that she had wiped the server clean of her private messages and that there may have been a three-month period when the server had not been encrypted and thus was at risk of being hacked; perhaps by some unfriendly person, nation or group. Attention was also drawn to the fact that some of the communiques sent or received by the server were classified as “sensitive” if not “top secret” after HRC’s handling of them.
The latest development in this ongoing saga came on this September 12th when the Justice Department ruled that HRC was within her rights to scrub private correspondence from her server. The potential problem with the lack of encryption remains unresolved as of this date. As for the post hoc classification of e-mails, conservatives are arguing that HRC, with her experience, should have known that these messages had to be handled with far greater care.
This contention overlooks the very real possibility that what appears to be a rather ordinary e-mail, may at a later date become more sensitive because of some change in external events. For example, treating a correspondence about “person-A” as innocuous at one point, may later be classified differently because of what has more recently been learned about that same individual.
While these and other issues remain to be resolved, the array of available evidence should lead to a pubic statement by the Select Committee that it has concluded that HRC is free of any criminal culpability insofar as the deaths of our four citizens in Benghazi is concerned.
There is no reason to anticipate that this will happen. House Republicans who are in the majority and run the Select Committee, are intent on keeping all of this alive; the better to damage HRC’s electoral chances. (2) When she testifies before the committee next month, HRC’s performance will either sink her, or begin the process of removing public doubts about her honesty. A great deal will depend on how the media play it; i.e. does she come across as truthful and lay concerns to rest, or will those reservations about her persist.
Until her appearance, you can expect from the right, a steady drumbeat of innuendo, false claims that fly in the face of evidence, and new revelations that keep this matter alive and in the news.
- Seeking to get a “full account” of what happened at Benghazi is a fool’s errand when it is obvious that the best available witnesses – the four Americans – are dead, and some of their murderers remain at large.
- For a blistering op-ed on the Select Committee’s dysfunction, use the link below: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/opinion/disband-the-benghazi-committee