House Select Committee on Benghazi Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC), under siege from both Democrats and Republicans who’ve suggested the panel is pursuing a partisan investigation into Hillary Clinton, promised that new information would come out of the panel Thursday during the former secretary of state’s high-profile testimony.
Yet the panel seemed to spend quite some time rehashing an old, debunked conservative conspiracy theory that Clinton deliberately blamed the attacks on a spontaneous protest in reaction to an anti-Muslim video before acknowledging that they were an act of terrorism.
A sneering Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) made it clear from the beginning of Clinton’s day-long testimony that he didn’t believe she was honest with the American people about the attacks. He said that emails from Clinton to her own family as well as to the prime minister of Egypt showed she knew on the night of the Benghazi attacks that the violence didn’t spring out of any protest.
“Why didn’t you just speak plain to the American people?” Jordan asked.
“I did,” Clinton responded. “If you look at my statement as opposed to what I was saying to the Egyptian prime minister, I did state clearly and I said it again and in more detail the next morning. As did the President. I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative, congressman. I can only tell you what the facts were.”
Jordan’s comments, in addition to the newly released email from Clinton to her daughter, Chelsea, lit up conservative corners of the internet. The Daily Caller headlined its piece “Hillary Told Daughter Chelsea That Terrorists Were Behind Benghazi Attack The Night It Happened.” Breitbart went with an all-caps “WATCH: HILLARY CONFRONTED WITH EMAILS CALLING BENGHAZI A ‘PLANNED ATTACK,’ PLUGS HER BOOK.”
But the American people Jordan was so concerned about already have been down this road—twice.
A GOP-led investigation into the Benghazi attacks—one of seven such congressional inquiries predating the select committee—debunked the conspiracy theory last year. The House Intelligence Committee, which spent two years investigating the attacks, determined that intelligence about who carried out the attacks and why was conflicting in the immediate aftermath. The committee determined that no government official intentionally misled the American people about the attacks. It placed the blame for the misinformation on intelligence officials rather than Obama administration figureheads like Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who said on the Sunday show circuit that the Benghazi attacks evolved out of a protest.
The conspiracy theory also generated what was arguably the most memorable moment of the 2012 presidential campaign.
A month after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pressed President Barack Obama during their second debate on whether he immediately classified the attacks as terrorism.
“I think it’s interesting, the President just said something which is the day after the attack he went in the Rose Garden and said this was an act of terror,” Romney said in the debate. “It was not a spontaneous demonstration. Is that what you’re saying? Want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
Moderator and CNN anchor Candy Crowley interjected there with a live fact-check heard ’round the nation.
“He did in fact, sir. He did call it an act of terror,” she said. “It did, as well, take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You’re correct about that.”
Jordan wouldn’t let the issue go during Thursday’s hearing, though. He circled back to the intelligence coming into the State Department about the attacks that night and confronted Clinton with what he said were conflicting statements from her and other Obama administration officials about their cause.
“Well, congressman, I believe to this day the video played a role,” Clinton said.
“But your experts didn’t,” Jordan interrupted.
“There were many experts,” Clinton said.
With that, it was 2012 all over again.