From the days of his youth, Brother Ivo has been interested in US politics. He recalls the Kennedy-Nixon campaign of 1960, albeit hazily. He followed the progress of the Civil Rights movement and the tragic assassinations of Dr King and both Kennedys.
He was a “Watergate junky ,waking early each morning to eagerly receive the overnight update on the inquiry, from a BBC which covered it in depth, making the slow southern drawl of “Senator Sam” Ervin of Texas a minor media star as he doggedly pursued the questions that revealed the unthinkable – that a US President had both acted and lied for political advantage.
Nixon fell and repented, but that appears to be the last wholesome precedent in living memory.
Subsequently, and in sharp contrast, Bill Clinton lied and was forgiven. He was aided and abetted in that by a wife who knew perfectly well of his widespread philandering, yet faced the press and people down.
More importantly she vilified the victims of her husband as liars, fantasists or gold diggers, yet still manages to represent herself with a straight face as the champion against those waging a “war of women”.
Only recently did Brother Ivo learn that Mrs Clinton had in fact been thrown off the Watergate inquiry team by its lead Democrat prosecutor for unethical behaviour. She had borrowed the only copy of an obscure legal precedent from the Library of Congress which supported the beleaguered Nixon’s request for Legal Counsel to assist him, she locked it in her room and then argued that if he could not produce it, he had no case for assistance in the process.
Her then boss discharged her saying that said she could never be trusted with such responsibility again.
Times have changed. Brother Ivo had been an admirer. If Watergate taught us anything however, it is surely that for integrity to remain in public life, one sometimes has to stand against one’s “own side”, something that Watergate Republicans of a different era did do; sadly, the Benghazi Committee Democrats have proved themselves incapable of following that ethical precedent.
Brother Ivo watch much of the Clinton evidence – so you didn’t have to.
What did he learn?
First that the BBC has ceased to be a serious reported of the issues of American politics. Jon Sopel’s report only addressed one issue -” Did Mrs Clinton’s Presidential bid survive?” One might have expected such a culturally liberal institution to assert that the deaths of 4 Embassy staff was too important to be politicised – which they accuse the Republicans of doing – and yet none of the evidence has been reported by our National Broadcaster.
This is evidence of a decline in broadcasting standards. Watergate was arguably less important – nobody died – and yet Brother Ivo and others of his age could probably even now give a fair summary of how bad practice came to be exposed.
The Benghazi Committee Chair, Trey Gowdy, came out as a man of integrity and forensic focus. He said he would concentrate on the events of Benghazi, and although the tale of Mrs Clinton’s secret and illegal email server is fascinating, he did not dwell on it at all.
He did neatly dispose of the claims that there was no new facts to investigate, pointing out that Mrs Clinton had never testified to any of the other bodies purporting to have investigated the matter, neither had any of those inquiries seen or even asked for her emails or those of Ambassador Stephens.
None of them had heard from witnesses on the ground.
The notion that this inquiry is irrelevant was thus despatched easily in his opening remarks, to the satisfaction of anyone of a non partisan nature.
The one big issue clarified was major. The Benghazi attack was not caused by the getting out of hand of a demonstration about an internet film, watched by only 300 people at the time of the attack occurring.
Nobody on the ground reported a demonstration.
Nobody called from the compound talking of a demonstration at all, still less it becoming ugly. Congressman Jordan put this directly to Mrs Clinton and she acknowledged its truth. There was not only no demonstration but no proper basis upon which to discuss one.
Sen John McCain – a personal friend of Mrs Clinton – had observed at the time that “nobody brings a rocket propelled grenade to a demonstration”, and although Mrs Clinton mentioned in passing that as Libya fell into turmoil, weapons were increasingly available, that may actually prove a hinderance rather than a help when we come to consider her responses to requests for greater security.
The key new revelation comes in three parts evidencing that the video claim was both patently false and known by Mrs Clinton to be false.
.On the night in question, Mrs Clinton emailed her daughter Chelsea to speak of a terrorist Al Quaida attack on the Benghazi Consulate. There is no reference to a video or a demonstration.
More officially, in two official records of telephone conversations with the Egyptian Prime Minister ( where there had been a demonstration) and the Libyan PM , Mrs Clinton said – in plain terms- that this was a pre-planned attack by an armed terrorist group and nothing to do with a video.
Within days that changed, with no evidence of reason for change being advanced; Mrs Clinton stood over the coffins of the dead and asserted that they had arrested the video maker who was responsible for this dreadful state of affairs. In the meantime, her staff had prepared “talking points’ for Susan Rice, the Whitehouse National Security advisor,as she toured the Sunday morning talk shows asserting that it was the video that had inflamed the situation.
Why would anyone do this?
Would not most people have accepted that sometimes attacks like the original 9/11 literally come out of a clear blue sky? Unfortunate, tragic, but capable of being maturely explained and accepted.
The answer of course comes from the context. it was only 56 days from the election date, the President and Mrs Clinton were running on a record encapsulated in the phrase “General Motors is still alive and Bin Laden is dead”. They were proclaiming the victory over Al Quada and this was now falsified by the attack.
A second reason is more specific to Mrs Clinton and her own political ambitions currently being pursued. The evidence showed a picture of less than due diligence towards the security needs of Ambassador Stevens.
Mrs Clinton claimed him as a personal friend, implying that she would never neglect her duties towards him, with professional obligation underpinned by personal loyalty. She referred to him as “Chris” throughout.
Yet when questioned on this, she confirmed that he did not have her private telephone number, nor her cell phone, fax number or access to her through the notorious secret private email server. Her friend had never visited her house.
In contrast, her friend Sidney Blumenthall , was not only in possession of all her contact details but, despite being declared persona non grata to the Administration by the President in direct, unambiguous terms, was in constant discussion with her and she engaged with him regularly, sometimes sending his opinion over Libya higher up the chain – after carefully redacting his identity as the source of opinions.
She knew he was not trusted, neither did he have security clearance. He had never been to Libya but did have commercial interests as an advisor there, interests he was happy to advance with her by email. He was one of her most prolific email correspondents. His views and advice was “ put into the mix” as if a credible source though she knew that had those receiving the advice known its source they would have brought a degree of scepticism to the evaluation of the weight to be attached to it.
Congresswoman Brooks graphically displayed two piles of emails, one, approximately 750 in the year before the attack, but in the second barely a hundred and fifty in the time leading up to the attack. Whilst email is not the only measure of engagement, the contrast was striking.
It became more so in relation to the plight of Mrs Clinton’s “friend”, who was simultaneously expressing concerns about the security situation for himself and his staff, sending about 600 requests.
Mrs Clinton made two sound points; first that emails alone are not the only indicator of concern, she was, after all having meetings, telephone calls cable reports etc. Second, that there were things she did do to improve security across the region; she had more obligations than Benghazi, even if “Chris” was specifically a friend.
Where that hits a credibility problem is in relation to her staff.
Two of them, writing form the State Department Libya desk, recorded that she appeared not to know that there was a consulate in Benghazi. She denied knowledge of the memo or its authors and specifically denied knowing their names.
This is puzzling.
How many unknown parties in a large organisation would risk upsetting its head by reminding her of a significant memory lapse?
Is that not usually the role of trusted confidantes?
Further, if unknown parties had access to the private and secret email address of a Secretary of State, does that not raise increasingly worrying questions of security?
More substantial is the fact that some 600 emails from Ambassador Stevens appear to have been received by her staff ( these were only disclosed two weeks and on week before the hearing so evaluation time was truncated). Mrs Clinton says that she never received or knew of these increasingly worried pleas from the Ambassador. What does it say of the culture of the Department of which she “takes full responsibility” that such powerful pleas and indicators of concern were never thought sufficiently important for her staff to refer to her for executive consideration and decision?
We learnt that not only did the Ambassador specifically raise concern that the Consulate might have to be abandoned – again never put to her by her staff, but that as other Countries Missions, Charities, and Non Governmental Organisations pulled out, the worried Ambassador began buying cut price security apparatus to improve the security because his pleas to his Secretary of State were persistently unanswered.
Not only did Mrs Clinton laugh at this, referring to her “ friend’s ” ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, but insisted that he was making the decision to stay – he could have raised it with her if he was especially worried.
He was signaling anxiety, but these signals cut no ice with Mrs Clinton’s Staff who arguably were anxious not to break the political narrative that all was well with the Administrations policy in relation to the Arab Spring.
Is there no lesson to be learned here?
Is it not at least apparent that when staff screen out 600 pleas for help a Secretary of State in future needs to put in place procedures that such matters should be offered to him/her for risk assessment?
To put this in context, in specific answer to a question from Congressman Pompano, Mrs Clinton agreed she read every email from Sidney Blumenthall who advised and opined on Libya, having never been there, but not the many emails coming into her Department from her Ambassador in the front line,
The refrain that he was an experienced Diplomat and the best man to decide when the risk escalated to an unacceptable level may underplay the loyalty that Ambassador Stevens showed to Mrs Clinton. At times she was perilously close to asserting “ death by misadventure” – that he was “asking for it”.
If nobody knew the risks better than the Ambassador, the question begs to be asked “why did she and her staff ignore his advice that greater security was needed?”
Ambassador Stevens had 5 security men protecting him. The US had more security men defending their Embassy in Bermuda. Congressman Westmoreland from Georgia spoke with a slow Southern drawl, but one small part of his questioning was powerful.
He specifically asked Mrs Clinton about attacks on the Benghazi Consulate. She said she knew of only two, including the last fatal one. Westmoreland then pointed her to emails in which no fewer than 18 other attacks – of varying severity- were referenced. She agreed she had absolutely no knowledge of them.
We learned an important new reason for this. Asked directly, she agreed that she could remember not a single occasion on which she spoke to her friend/Ambassador after he was appointed and sent into one of the most volatile war zones at the time,
As can be seen, far from being an “Irrelevant” political witch hunt, real new information is emerging about what happened that night, Mrs Clinoton’s Democrat colleagues desperately tried to run the “ nothing to see here” line, frequently offering criticism of the process whilst asking no specific questions.
Unfortunately for them, in a moment of unguarded candour, Mrs Clinton answered to one congresswoman that “ There are legitimate questions ……”
If this is the case – as indeed it is – why were the Democrats not attempting to ask them?
Not all legitimate questions would necessarily have been to Mrs Clinton’s detriment, yet her supporters seemed to have no faith in her ability to offer full and credible explanations of the character identified as “ legitimate” by Mrs Clinton, and chose not to risk any serious invitation to ask her explain more.
So there you have a brief resume of the principle points of the 11 hours of testimony. Only half of those hours were made up of serious questions and Mrs Clinton was not shy of giving extended answers to run down the clock.
Chairman Gowdy did not interrupt her and was scrupulously polite throughout.
Anyone can watch the entire hearing on the internet if there is any concern about Brother Ivo’s summary or interpretation.
So what did Brother Ivo learn?
Beyond the factual matters, he has come to a very depressing conclusion. Bill Clinton lied to get elected and was forgiven. Barack Obama’s election was secured partly thanks to a less than frank account of what happened in Benghazi that night; it was not an error but a strategy.
Mrs Clinton is seeking election on the back of a significant lack of transparency, resistance to accountability and plain evidence to having advanced a full narrative about the significance of the rogue video.
In Watergate, there were Nixon supporters who reluctantly came to the conclusion that however much they liked “ their man” , integrity forced them to turn away. Sadly in these three more recent scandals partisanship has triumphed. Committee Democrats bemoaned the costs of the process – $4.5m. They seemed blissfully unaware of the irony that the easier you make it for a lying politician to remain in office , the more it incentivises lying, prevarication, and subterfuge. Only by always calling out the miscreants, will you curtail waste in the future. All Secretary of State Clinton is seeing as a result of her mistakes from that time, is unqualified approbation and adulation from her side of the aisle
So reluctantly, sadly, Brother Ivo’s abiding lesson from the Behnghazi investigation is just that – cynicism pays.
P.S. As he reviewed his notes and wrote this piece, many on twitter were declaring that “nothing new” had emerged, that there was no “gotcha moment”, and even that the whole inquiry must be closed down in consequence.
This profoundly misunderstands the quasi-judicial process,
- Mrs Clinton had to be given an opportunity to put her side of the case – as she was with time opportunity and politeness, That is a prerequisite of a fair process,
- Something important has happened; her account is now fixed on oath,with no more opportunity to adjust the narrative.
- It can now be compared to other evidence, past and future, and any inconsistency can be identified and brought into account.
PPS Should the BBC wish to use this analysis as the basis for intelligent discussion they are more that welcome to use it to ” up their game”