Hillary Clinton’s 11-hour testimony on Capitol Hill before the House Select Committee on Benghazi didn’t disappoint in the realm of political theater, with fireworks and partisan sparring aplenty.
But what new information did we actually glean about the attacks on American diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans on September 11, 2012?
The hearing revealed two new pieces of information: that in the aftermath of the attack Clinton told an Egyptian official that the violence was planned rather than the result of a spontaneous demonstration in response to an anti-Islam video and that she sent her family an email attributing the violence to a known terrorist group.
On Thursday it became clear that in a phone conversation with then-Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil the day after the Benghazi attack, Clinton said the motivation for the Benghazi attacks was known.
“We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack – not a protest,” she told the prime minister in that conversation, according to a transcript of the call read aloud by Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
That’s a key point, as some Republicans have accused the Obama administration of trying to cover up the true motivations behind the terrorist attacks on Benghazi.
Some administration officials at the time, most notably then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, claimed publicly in the immediate aftermath of the strike that the terrorist attack was triggered by an American-made video defaming the Prophet Muhammad and spontaneous protests that arose in response. Such protests did occur in Egypt and other Arab countries.
“It began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video,” Rice said then on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” comments she later walked back.
Jordan also read out an email that Clinton sent her family the night of the attack, reciting that: “Two officers were killed today in Benghazi by an al-Qaeda-like group.”
Like the her call to the Egyptian prime minister, Clinton’s apparent certainty that the attack was carried out by a known terrorist group contradicted some administration officials’ public statements in the wake of the attack.
Clinton;s assessment came after White House and State Department officials became aware that an Islamic militant group had claimed responsibility for the attack on Facebook.
The next month, Clinton said that the Facebook post was “not in and of itself evidence” of who was in fact responsible and “underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time.” U.S. intelligence officials later determined that the post was not credible.
In response to the revelations at the hearing, Clinton chalked up the differences in her accounts and the administration’s repeated references to a spontaneous demonstration to shifting intelligence assessments during a chaotic period.
“There was a lot of conflicting information that we were trying to make sense of. The situation was very fluid. It was fast-moving,” she said.
“When I talked to the Egyptian prime minister, I said that this was a claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Sharia, by a group that was affiliated – or at least wanted to be affiliated – with al Qaida,” she related. “Sometime after that, the next day, early the next morning after that, on the 12th or 13th, they retracted their claim of responsibility.”
She continued, “If you look at what all of us were trying to do … we were in a position, Congressman, of trying to make sense of a lot of incoming information.”
And she added that “because my responsibility was what was happening throughout the region, I needed to be talking about the video.” She explained that as being due to her need “to put other governments and other people on notice that we were not going to let them get away with attacking us, as they did in Tunis, is they did in Khartoum.”