Solomon: Staying Above the Fray

by Ioana Solomon | 10/26/15 7:57pm

On Oct. 25, Republican representatives on the House Select Committee on Benghazi put former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton through an 11-hour period of aggressive interrogation. The hearing once again scrutinized the Sept. 11, 2012 attack by Islamist militants on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of four American officials, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — though the hearing seemed to uncover few new details. It has proven not only that the committee has dubious motives, but also that Clinton possesses the poise we should expect of a leader.

The hearing was more an unnecessarily hostile and politicized inquisition than an honest and unbiased call for truth. The panel’s seven Republicans sought to establish that Clinton had been intentionally negligent of her duty to protect the American diplomatic mission in Libya, making the Benghazi attack not just her responsibility, but in their eyes, directly her fault. Beyond the plainly partisan divide in arguments, it was clear from the language, tone and facial expressions throughout the day that the hearing was mostly a showcase of the hatred between America’s two major political parties.

A CNN/ORG poll published the morning of the hearing found that most respondents — 72 percent — believed that the hearing was politically motivated. Remarks by two Republican lawmakers support that sentiment — House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) commented in a Sept. 30 interview that the select committee was helping drive down Clinton’s poll numbers. Representative Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) even admitted that the committee was “designed to go after” Clinton. Earlier this week, committee member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told NBC’s Meet The Press that the committee had no purpose for existing “apart from damaging Hillary Clinton.” The committee that is actively trying to blemish Clinton’s reputation could not pick a more opportune time to schedule a hearing than the height of the presidential primary campaign. The Benghazi committee is clearly a political tool for Republicans, and a pretty effective one at that.

Yet it would be unfair to let the committee’s questionable purpose discredit its accomplishments. Its partisan hostility notwithstanding, the hearing did reveal some inconsistencies in Clinton’s account of events, and panel members may have scored legitimate political points. Their questioning turned to a conversation that took place between Clinton and a senior Egyptian minister in which she said the attack was premeditated and carried out by a known group. She said something similar to Egypt’s then-Prime Minister Hesham Kandil the day after the attack and allegedly sent an email to her family stating that “two officers were killed today in Benghazi by an al Qaeda-like group.” That information conflicts with the Obama administration’s initial theory in Sept. 2012 that the attack was spontaneous.

Clinton countered that the first few days after the attack were chaotic and muddied by conflicting reports. But whether or not Clinton fully disclosed what she knew about the attack’s perpetrators and their motives to the American public immediately following the attack provides no evidence that Clinton purposefully neglected security beforehand. The panel thought otherwise. Representative Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), in particular, was passionate and adamant in her accusations that Clinton did not offer Ambassador Stevens sufficient means to communicate with her and that Clinton did not care enough about the mission in Libya in 2012. Clinton stood her ground, explaining that she had delegated security tasks and communications from Stevens to her security experts and had used methods of communication beyond email.

Regardless of how persuasive her answers are, there is one thing I have to grant to Clinton — the composure and authority she maintained throughout the grueling session. She faced some hard accusations and even some rude ones. Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) suggested that Clinton was not taking the hearing seriously because she was reading notes from her staff, even though he likewise was reading while she answered. I cannot attest to the extent of her innocence, but I can admire her for preparing well and delivering sharp answers. While Clinton did not meet a standard of perfection — she has made mistakes — she has proven her resilience, intelligence and strength in the face of adversity. Even if she does not win the Democratic primary or the general election, the behavior and attitude Clinton exhibited in the hearing are what we should demand from all of our politicians.