AP FACT CHECK: Clinton and critics on Benghazi, emails

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22 Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 22 Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional investigations, by definition, are about finding facts. But some facts were twisted Thursday in a showdown between Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Republican questioners over how history — and voters — will remember the deadly 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound and CIA quarters in Benghazi, Libya.

A look at some of the claims in a House hearing where lawmakers quizzed Clinton, secretary of state during the Benghazi episode and now a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate:

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CLINTON: “There was a good back and forth about security.” — On communications between U.S. personnel in Libya and the State Department in Washington, about security needs at the Benghazi compound before the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

THE FACTS: The independent review Clinton convened after the attacks deeply faulted State Department officials in Washington for poor communication and cooperation as diplomats in Libya pressed for more security and Benghazi grew more dangerous.

The Accountability Review Board cited a “lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at senior bureau levels” and “shortfalls in Washington coordination” contributing to a “woefully insufficient” security force at the compound.

The fewer than half dozen armed diplomatic security personnel at the compound “were not well served by their leadership in Washington,” the board said.

Clinton furthermore asserted that personnel in Benghazi were granted many of their requests for security equipment upgrades.

The review board, however, said “Washington showed a tendency to overemphasize the positive impact of physical security upgrades” to a “profoundly weak” system.

At the same time, Washington officials were “generally failing to meet Benghazi’s repeated requests” to augment security personnel.

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REP. TREY GOWDY: The Republican committee chairman ridiculed the idea of Stevens “having to stop and provide public messaging advice to your press shop” a week after a bomb blew a hole in the compound’s wall, without injuring anyone.

Gowdy referred to a request from the State Department’s spokeswoman at the time, Victoria Nuland, who wrote, according to the chairman, “We’d like your advice about public messaging about the spate of violence in Libya over the last 10 days.”

THE FACTS: An important part of any ambassador’s job is to be the public face of U.S. policy in the host country and to help decide what the U.S. government should say publicly about that country.

State Department spokespeople receive guidance every day from ambassadors, assistant secretaries and other top officials about their areas of expertise, so that they can most accurately present U.S. policy to the public.

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CLINTON: Asked about the dozens of emails she received from longtime political confidant Sidney Blumenthal, many with reports about developments in Libya, Clinton said his advice was “unsolicited.”

THE FACTS: Clinton was mischaracterizing some of those exchanges with Blumenthal.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House committee leading the hearing, asked what she meant by saying his advice was unsolicited.

“I did not ask him to send me the information that he sent me.”

Noting that Blumenthal had no expertise about Libya, Gowdy read Clinton’s emailed responses to some of his reports: “Thanks and please keep them coming” and “Anything else to convey?” and “What are you hearing now?”

At that, Clinton revised her description of how their email exchanges unfolded to “originally unsolicited,” saying, “They started out unsolicited, and as I said, some were of interest.”

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GOWDY: The chairman defended his lengthy probe by arguing that seven previous congressional investigations “were narrow in scope and either incapable or unwilling to access the facts and evidence necessary to answer all relevant questions.”

THE FACTS: What Gowdy didn’t mention: Five of those seven investigations were led and controlled by his fellow House Republicans, who were no pushovers. The other two congressional investigations, led by Senate Democrats, produced bipartisan reports.

While each panel investigated matters under its particular jurisdiction, the mandate was still broad, and underlying facts behind the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were explored repeatedly.

That’s not to say information that emerged after these investigations has been comprehensively explored. Gowdy noted his panel demanded additional documents and was the first to get Clinton’s email — kept on her personal server — and the emails of Stevens.

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CLINTON: “I did not email during the day and — except on rare occasions when I was able to.”

THE FACTS: Clinton’s use of her private email address and server during working hours was anything but “rare.”

Clinton sent about one-third of her emails during working hours — on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. — according to an AP analysis of 2,754 emails she wrote from April 2009 through September 2010, based on time stamps on the messages.

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CLINTON: In her opening statement, she painted her critics as arguing that it’s never reasonable to plant diplomats on dangerous ground: “Retreat from the world is not an option. America cannot shrink from our responsibility to lead. … If you ask our most experienced ambassadors, they’ll tell you they can’t do their jobs for us from bunkers.”

THE FACTS: Republican lawmakers are not arguing that diplomats should never venture into risky conditions to represent the U.S. They cite investigations after the Benghazi attacks that condemned the State Department’s decision to keep that post open with poor security despite a growing number of assaults on Western interests in the area.

The accountability board appointed by Clinton as secretary of state said the security in Benghazi was “grossly inadequate to deal with the attack.” A bipartisan Senate committee report called keeping the Benghazi mission open under those circumstances “a grievous mistake.”

The State Department pulled out of Benghazi immediately after the attack and left Libya altogether in 2014. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli remains shuttered, the country still considered too unstable and dangerous for a return.

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Associated Press writers Troy Thibodeaux, Ted Bridis and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.

EDITOR’S NOTE _ An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story