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Partisan Spin on Benghazi

The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Benghazi committee each distorted the facts during TV appearances to discuss the committee’s work:

  • GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy was asked what “new facts” his committee discovered that seven other committees did not. Referring to the many other investigations into the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Gowdy asked “how did they miss Ambassador Stevens’ e-mails?” But other committees did obtain some of Stevens’ emails – including a June 7, 2012, email that Gowdy cited in the interview.
  • Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings praised former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for giving the State Department thousands of work-related emails that she sent and received from her personal email account. Cummings added that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not turn over “one page” of her emails. But Rice had none to turn over; she didn’t use a personal email account for government business.

Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Oct. 18 — four days before Hillary Clinton’s scheduled Oct. 22 appearance before the committee.

Stevens’ Emails

Four Americans, including Stevens, were killed during Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a temporary diplomatic facility and a CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. The House authorized the creation of the special Benghazi committee in a May 8, 2014, vote, although by that time seven other congressional committees had investigated the attacks.

John Dickerson, the host of “Face the Nation,” asked Gowdy what “new facts” his committee has uncovered that the others did not.

Dickerson, Oct. 18: Tell us about the new facts. One of the charges against your committee is there have been seven hearings — seven investigations in Congress already. Why have another one. What new facts have you got that rebuts that charge?

Gowdy: You know, John, I do hear that there have been seven, which makes me smile because I wonder, how did they miss Ambassador Stevens’ e-mails? None of the seven previous committees bothered to access the e-mails of our ambassador.

So, if you want a window into Libya and what was happening in the weeks and months before these four were killed, why would you not look at the ambassador’s e-mails? He was a prolific e-mailer. I will give you a one-week time period in June. He’s just been put in place as the ambassador, just accepted, on June the 7th. And he is already asking for more security. He knows that there’s an uptick in violence and he’s asking for more security.

On almost exactly that day, John, he is asked to read and respond to an e-mail from [Clinton friend and former adviser] Sidney Blumenthal, who knows nothing about Libya. So, he’s asking for security. And [former deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning] Jake Sullivan in Washington is asking our ambassador the day after our facility was attacked with an IED to read and respond to an e-mail from Sidney Blumenthal.

The other committees did not “miss” Stevens’ emails. During the course of their investigations, other committees did have access to at least some emails and cables sent and received by Stevens — who became ambassador on May 22, 2012, and served in that capacity for less than four months.

In fact, the June 7, 2012, email cited by Gowdy on “Face the Nation” was discussed during Clinton’s testimony on Jan. 23, 2013, before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. That email also appears in a Benghazi timeline released by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in January 2014.

The intelligence committee timeline shows that Stevens on June 7, 2012, exchanged emails with a State Department official (identified in another House report as John Moretti) about the security situation in Libya. In the email, Stevens requests to retain the services of two Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) around the time of the July 7, 2012, Libyan elections:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ambassador Stevens made a personal plea for an increase in security. In a June 2012 email, he told a Department official that with national elections in July and August, the Mission “would feel much safer if we could keep two MSD teams with us through this period [to support] our staff and [personal detail] for me and the [Deputy Chief of Mission] and any VIP visitors.” The Department official replied that due to other commitments and limited resources, “unfortunately, MSD cannot support the request.”

There were other emails and cables from Stevens, too. A House intelligence committee report dated Jan. 15, 2014, said the committee reviewed “thousands of intelligence reports and internal documents (including e-mails, cables, etc.) which were provided by the IC, the State Department, and DoD.” That report discusses an Aug. 16, 2012, cable sent by Stevens regarding the security situation in Libya.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole in an October 2012 press release refers to cables he said were sent by Stevens on June 25, 2012, and Aug. 8, 2012. Cole also refers to a cable that was approved by Stevens on the day of the attack, Sept. 11, 2012.

As Cole notes, the documents were obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — of which Gowdy is a member:

Cole, Oct. 29, 2012: Documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show growing concern on the part of Ambassador Stevens and his staff regarding the worsening security situation. In a cable from June 25 titled “Libya’s Fragile Security Deteriorates,” Ambassador Stevens wrote, “From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests.” Stevens goes on to list six of the multiple attacks that had already occurred, including an attack on a U.N. official in Benghazi, an IED explosion at the consulate compound, and a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the British ambassador’s convoy. Stevens stated that his contacts in the area informed him that “Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities.”

Another cable from August 8 mentions “a series of violent incidents” and warns that the local security forces the Obama administration was to rely on to protect our diplomats “has not coalesced into a stabilizing force and provides little deterrence.” On the day of his murder, Stevens reiterated the warning, citing a commander with Benghazi’s Supreme Security Council who “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure).”

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi committee, issued a press release recently that listed six other emails and cables, to which other committees had access, that were sent or received by Stevens, including some prior to Stevens’ appointment as ambassador.

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Gowdy and the Republican majority members on the Benghazi committee, told us that Gowdy did not say that the other committees did not have any of Stevens’ emails. “Chairman Gowdy said the committee was the first to ‘access’ them,” Ware said, adding that the committee asked for all of Stevens’ emails from March 2011 to Sept. 11, 2012, the day of the attack.

Ware is splitting hairs. Although other committees did not ask specifically for Stevens’ emails, they did ask the State Department for documents related to the Benghazi attacks, which would include emails and cables sent and received by Stevens.

“Prior committees investigating the attacks in Benghazi had long had access to a significant volume of emails and documents to and from Ambassador Stevens,” Alec Gerlach, a spokesman for the State Department, told us in an email. Although typically, Gerlach said, the congressional requests were made by “specific subject matter, and not to specific current or former Department employees.”

Also, Gowdy’s claim wasn’t simply that his committee was the only one to specifically ask for Stevens’ emails. He said the other committees missed Stevens’ emails and hadn’t “bothered to access” them. Clearly, they had access to key emails and cables sent or approved by Stevens regarding the security situation in Libya prior to the attacks.

Clinton and Rice

For his part, Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi committee, made an apples-to-oranges comparison when praising Clinton for cooperating with the committee investigation. He noted, correctly, that Clinton turned over “tens of thousands” of work-related emails to the State Department — emails that Clinton had sent and received from her personal email account and stored on a private server. But then he claimed that Condoleezza Rice hadn’t “turned in one page.”

Cummings, Oct. 18: Well, keep in mind, keep in mind that Hillary Clinton has turned in tens of thousands of pages of e-mails, more than any other secretary in the history of our country, secretary of state in the history of country. And keep in mind Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have not turned in one page.

That’s a distortion. Unlike Powell and Clinton, Rice did not use a personal email account for government business, so she had no emails to give to the State Department, according to the State Department.

At a March 10 press briefing, then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the department requested work-related emails from four previous secretaries of state: Clinton, Powell, Rice and Madeleine Albright. She then discussed the responses the department received from Rice, Powell and Albright.

Psaki, March 10: Former Secretary Rice – I’m just going to go through all of them if that’s okay – responded to the Department’s letter and informed us that she did not use personal email for official business. Early in March of this year, General Powell advised – and I think he’s spoken to this publicly as well – that he used a personal email account during his tenure as secretary of state. He did not take any hard copies of emails with him when he left office and has no record of the emails, with the account he used having been closed for a number of years. Former Secretary Albright advised that she did not use email as secretary and has no records in her possession.

We should also note that although Powell did use a personal email account, rather than the government email system, he did not store his emails on a private server. Powell, who was secretary of state from January 2001 to January 2005, said he did not have any emails to turn over.