A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Benghazi Hearing: What’s New?

Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said the committee “learned an awful lot” during Hillary Clinton’s marathon testimony Oct. 22. Rep. Adam Smith, a Democratic member, said the hearing produced “literally no new information.”

Who’s right? Neither.

Pompeo gave three examples, but only one proved to be new information — and even that confirmed what has been known for three years. Smith, though, goes too far in saying there was “literally no new information.”

Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, was secretary of state on the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a temporary diplomatic facility and a CIA annex in Benghazi. The attack killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Investigations into the attacks have been conducted by seven congressional committees and an independent panel appointed by Clinton, as required by law.

Democrats and Republicans have long quarreled about the need for the special committee, which was approved in a partisan House vote on May 8, 2014. On Oct. 22, Clinton testified for 11 hours, and afterward committee members were divided on whether the hearing produced new information that had not been uncovered by other investigations.

In an interview on CNN a day after the hearing, Pompeo said he “couldn’t disagree … more” with those who say that the hearing produced no new information. “We learned an awful lot yesterday and will learn more.”

Pompeo, Oct. 23: Let me give you three examples. We were able to confirm through emails that we received only recently that Secretary Clinton knew instantaneously and told her family member and the Egyptian leadership this [attack] had nothing to do with a[n anti-Muslim] video.

We learned the cumulative impact of 600-plus security requests never made it to Secretary Clinton’s desk, and the folks demanding increased security never got it.

And we learned as we said in the opening that still to this day, no one has been held accountable. We learned a lot yesterday and will learn a lot more as we move forward.

Let’s unpack each of these examples. We’ll begin with his mention of emails — which were perhaps the most widely discussed topics after the hearing, particularly by the conservative media, including Breitbart, which cited them as conclusive evidence that Clinton knew the attacks were a planned terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 and had nothing to do with the anti-Muslim video that sparked anti-U.S. violence in Egypt and elsewhere.

Republicans claim, as Rep. Jim Jordan did at the Oct. 22 hearing, that the administration blamed the video for the attacks and did not want to admit it was a terrorist attack for fear it would hurt Obama’s reelection chances.

Pompeo referred to two emails in his CNN interview. The first was an email sent Sept. 12, 2012, by State Department Public Affairs Officer Lawrence Randolph that summarized a call between Clinton and then-Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil a day after the attacks in Benghazi. That email quotes Clinton as saying, “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.”

The committee hearing also produced an email that Clinton sent on the night of the attack to her daughter, Chelsea (who is identified in the email under her alias “Diane Reynolds.”) In that email, the secretary of state wrote: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al Qaeda-like group: The Ambassador, whom I handpicked and a young communications officer on temporary duty w a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same tomorrow.”

Those emails were both obtained by the Benghazi committee and constitute new information. But they are consistent with what has been known for three years.

As we have reported in our article “Benghazi Timeline” on Oct. 26, 2012, Obama administration officials in the days after the attack publicly cited the anti-Muslim video as a possible reason for the attack, even though the State Department had evidence at the time that it may have been a planned terrorist attack.

At the hearing, Clinton said that “there were probably a number of different motivations” for the attacks. “None of us can speak to the individual motivations of those terrorists who overran our compound and who attacked our CIA annex.”

The two parties can argue about the value of the emails, but they were uncovered by the Benghazi committee. So Smith was off the mark, when he said on MSNBC on the night of the hearing that “literally no new information has been brought to light by this committee.”

Pompeo, however, provided no other conclusive evidence that the committee learned “an awful lot” at the hearing.

The claim that security requests “never made it to Secretary Clinton’s desk” and “the folks demanding increased security never got” the increased security isn’t new. Clinton told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Jan. 23, 2013, that “any of the requests, any of the cables having to do with security did not come to my attention.” The denial of security requests is well-documented, including in a report released Dec. 18, 2012, by the Accountability Review Board appointed by Clinton.

Pompeo said the committee members “learned … that still to this day, no one has been held accountable.” That’s nothing new, either. It has been known since August 2013 that four State Department employees who were placed on administrative leave for their roles in providing inadequate security in Benghazi were reassigned to other jobs at the State Department, but not fired, after an internal department review.

At an Aug. 20, 2013, press briefing, then-department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the decision not to fire them was based on “the totality of these four employees’ overall careers at the State Department.”

It may be that the Benghazi committee turns up “an awful lot” of new information in the future. But Pompeo overstates his case for now.