Hillary Clinton is set to appear before the House Benghazi Committee starting at 10 a.m. Thursday for what is expected to be both the highest profile moment in the GOP’s never-ending investigation into the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya and the latest political test for the Democratic front-runner’s presidential hopes.
Above, you can watch a live-feed of the hearing. Below, you’ll find running updates, commentary, and reaction from the day’s action. If you need a quick refresher course on all things Benghazi, we’ve got you covered here.
* * *
9:10 p.m.: If Republicans broke significant new ground today, I didn’t see it. Committee Democrats, meanwhile, played some politics of their own, providing near-constant cover for their party’s presidential front-runner from gavel to gavel.
It’s hard to overstate just how great the past 10 or so days have been for Hillary, politically speaking. She entered October facing three large hurdles: the first Democratic debate, a potential Joe Biden campaign, and today’s Benghazi hearing. She cleared the first last week, had the second removed for her this week, and cleared the third today.
It’s All Over
9:01 p.m.: And that’s it! Chairman Gowdy gavels things to a close roughly 11 hours after the it began. You can relive the my blow-by-blow account below, and check out what Slate’s Jim Newell had to say about the hearing here, and what Slate’s Jamelle Bouie did here. (We’ll have more coming in the morning, I’m sure.)
Dems Ramp Up the Pressure (on Gowdy)
8:10 p.m.: Rep. Schiff and his fellow Democrats are now doing everything they can to shame Chairman Gowdy into bringing the hearing to a close. “Your testimony has gone on longer than all the other hearings we’ve held combined,” Schiff told Clinton. “But in the interest of disclosure, we haven’t done very much.”
7:40 p.m.: GOP Rep. Jordan pivots to Clinton’s personal email account and private server, a topic that the Republicans have largely avoided addressing directly today (as opposed to just talking about the emails themselves). As I’ve written again and again (and again), Hillary’s email decision is one that deserves serious scrutiny and criticism. The problem for Jordan and his fellow committee Republicans, though, is that it’s difficult to make the leap from that topic to the one the panel is actually tasked with investigating: the attacks themselves.
The Whole Night? The Whole Night.
7:20 p.m. Here was a fun exchange:
Rep. Roby: “You wrote in your book Hard Choices that you were directing the State Department response the night of September 11th, 2012, but you also stated that you left your office on the night of the attacks and went to your home in northwest Washington because you said you knew the next few days were going to be taxing and the department was going to be looking to you. … Who else was at your home? Were you alone?”
Clinton: “I was alone. Yes.”
Roby: “The whole night?”
Clinton: “Well, yes. The whole night.” [Laughter]
Yep, we’re still here.
The Hearing That Just Won’t End
7:02 p.m.: We’ve crossed the nine-hour mark (counting breaks), and the Republicans still have not given up the ghost. We’ll continue to update with any noteworthy moments, but for now here’s my colleague Jamelle Bouie offering his assessment of what he saw today:
When this began, conventional wisdom was that Hillary had to survive the scrutiny. That at best, this would be a wash. Toward the end, however, that wisdom changed. … Whether or not Republicans built the Benghazi committee to damage Clinton’s campaign, it’s clear they weren’t opposed to an outcome where Clinton was harmed. Instead, we have the opposite. Thanks to the committee, Clinton might escape a scandal, neutralize an attack, and enter the first major stretch of the presidential race with the wind at her back.
6:45 p.m.: For the second time today, GOP Rep. Roskam attempts to effectively testify on Clinton’s behalf—or more specifically tell Clinton what he would like to hear her say. After reading remarks Hillary gave in 2013 paying tribute to ambassador Stevens, Roskam continued: “Secretary Clinton, you should have added this”:
“Chris Stevens kept faith in the State Department that I headed even when we broke faith with him. He accepted my invitation to work in Benghazi even though he was denied the security he implored we give him. We breached our fundamental duty to mitigate his danger and secure his safety.”
“Would that be accurate?” the Republican lawmaker asked Clinton in closing. Her response: “I would not say that. I think it is a disservice for you to make that statement, congressman.”
Now It’s Democrats Turn to Return to Sid
5:40 p.m.: Rep. Schiff returns to one of the GOP’s favorite topics today—Sidney Blumenthal—and reminds the room that Republicans refused the Democratic motion earlier today to unseal transcripts of his testimony to the panel. “What they really don’t want the American people to see is what they asked,” the Democrat said, suggesting that the Republicans on the panel spent their time asking Blumenthal significantly more questions about Hillary than they did about Benghazi and Libya.
Back From Break #2
5:10 p.m.: The panel recessed for about an hour so members could head to the House floor to vote on an unrelated matter. They’re back now. No word on just how late into the night Gowdy is going to keep everyone here. Asked by a reporter during the recess if the press should order dinner, the chairman joked (we hope!): “maybe breakfast.”
3:45 p.m.: Republican Rep. Roskam (who seems to get flustered every time someone hands Hillary a note) read some snippets from Clinton’s emails to suggest that she and her staff were eager to turn the ouster of long-time ruler Muammar Qaddafi into a political coup for Clinton at home. “You were thinking about credit for you, isn’t that right?” he asked. It’s difficult to tell exactly where Roskam is trying to go with this; it’s even more difficult to tell how his line of questioning ties in with investigating the attacks themselves.
Democratic Defense, Part 1,358 (est.)
3:08 p.m.: Rep. Smith offers his assessment of what’s happened so far today: “We have learned nothing substantively new about what happened in Benghazi.” (He’s not wrong.)
Smith then turned over his remaining time to Clinton, who used it to bring the conversation back to the Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi and those who did what they could to save them. “This was the fog of war that the diplomatic security officers and later the CIA officers responded [to] with heroism, professionalism—as they have been trained to do,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s comments appeared to catch the Republicans off guard. Gowdy, and later Rep. Pompeo, thanked the former secretary for crediting the security officers for their heroism—and then quickly tried to use them to blame the Democrats on the panel for not doing enough to help the investigation. Cummings, Smith, and co. appear more than happy to draw the GOP fire if it spares Clinton.
Gowdy Swings Again
2:37 p.m.: Gowdy uses his second round of questions to return to the topic of Sidney Blumnenthal, the long-time Clinton confidante who passed along intel to Hillary via her private email account. The thrust of the chairman’s questioning seems to be to suggest that Clinton spent too much time reading emails from her old friend and not enough time focusing on the security situation in Benghazi. “How did you decide when to invoke a people and process, and who just got to come straight to you?” Gowdy said. “Cause it looks like certain things got straight to your inbox and the request for security did not.”
Clinton, though, took that criticism in stride, pointing out (for the second time today) that email was only one mode of communication she used as secretary. “You didn’t need my email address to get my attention,” she responded. “Most of my work, as I said this morning, had nothing to do with my emails.”
And We’re Back
2:19 p.m.: Gowdy gavels us back in and the panel resumes with a roll call vote on Cummings’ previous request to make Blumenthal’s transcripts part of the record. Unsurprisingly, the Democratic motion falls along party lines, 7-5.
1:20 p.m.: Cummings calls for a vote of the panel to make transcripts of the panel’s interview with Sidney Blumenthal part of the hearing’s official record. Gowdy, though, is having none of it. After a tense exchange—perhaps the most tense moment of the hearing so far—between Gowdy and the panel’s Democrats, the chairman adjourns the hearing for what appears to be a planned lunch break.
Regardless of whether the panel ultimately votes on the matter, Cummings and co. just gave Clinton a nice breather heading into the first recess. Let’s see if the Republicans change up their line of attack in part two of the hearing.
Reminder: Benghazi Is a Real Place
1:11 p.m.: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and Chairman Gowdy clash over whether the panel is trying to prosecute Clinton or investigate the terrorist attacks. (You can probably guess which lawmaker argued each point.) We’ll see more of this in the hours (and days) to come, but I’ll use this moment to deliver a helpful public service acknowledgment from my colleague Joshua Keating:
This week marked the four-year anniversary of the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi. His overthrow was once viewed as a triumph of the Arab Spring uprisings, and the use of prudent multilateral military power to back them. It doesn’t look as great today. …
Given the degree to which Clinton supported the intervention to oust Qaddafi—she once touted Libya as a test case for the smart application of American military power—you might think that the country’s current chaos, rather than a three year old incident, would be more of an issue for her campaign. But her opponents seem overwhelmingly more interested in making “Benghazi” into the Obama administration’s Watergate than in what’s happening in the actual place with that name.
The Talking Points
12:45 p.m.: Republican Rep. Jim Jordan returns to what has been the reoccurring theme throughout #Benghazi: what Clinton and Obama knew and when they knew it. Jordan pressed Clinton on the original narrative to come from the White House, which was that the attacks happened when “extremist elements” joined existing protests that had begun “spontaneously” in response to an anti-Muslim video.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, that actually was the CIA’s working theory in the immediate wake of the attack—although it also was a politically convenient one for the White House given it was a re-election year, which is difficult to separate from both the original talking points and the delay in correcting them when better information became available in the days that followed.
Clinton’s response to Jordan: “We were not making up the intelligence, we were trying to get it, make sense of it, and then share it. … I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative, congressman, I can only tell you what the facts were … I think the intelligence community did the best job they could and we all did the best we could to then share that with the American people.”
Democratic Defense, Cont.
12:32 p.m.: Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez is up next and quickly races to Hillary defense. She takes specific issue with the GOP suggestion that Sidney Blumenthal was Clinton’s primary Libya adviser. To prove her point, Sanchez queues up a clip from Meet the Press this past weekend during which Pompeo made the claim and then was quickly shot down by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Sanchez then follows by citing a Washington Post fact-check of the claim, noting the paper gave it four Pinocchios.
Pompeo Gets Aggressive
12:24 p.m.: Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo opens by focusing on diplomatic security at the Benghazi mission and says he wants to know why no one lost their jobs as a result of what happened. “Why [didn’t] you fire someone?” he asks. Clinton responds by pointing to the State Department internal review, which found systematic problems with the agency but did not fault with anyone specific. Pompeo, who’s been the most aggressive questioner of the day, also presses Clinton to explain why hundreds of security requests never made it to her desk, but nearly 200 emails from Sidney Blumenthal did.
12:05 p.m.: We’re a little more than two hours in and—in crass political terms—Clinton’s delivering a strong performance. She’s been confident in the face of the GOP grilling, and she’s been firm with her responses without being overly aggressive. In the process, she’s avoided offering the type of “What does it matter?” pull-quote that would be tailor-made for a GOP attack ad. There’s still a long way to go, obviously, but her campaign has to like how the morning played out. It’s certainly helped that the panel’s Democrats have used their time to take swings at the GOP-led investigation, and to allow Clinton to clarify anything she needs to.
Democratic Defense, Cont.
11:52 a.m.: Democrat Rep. Adam Smith picks up where Cummings left off, telling the room that the panel has learned “absolutely nothing” new about about the Benghazi attacks. “I didn’t think this committee should’ve been formed in the first place, but if it had to be formed the least we could do is actually focus on the four Americans killed,” he said.
Roby v. Clinton
11:40 a.m.: GOP Rep. Martha Roby used part of her time to press Clinton on a specific email that the lawmaker suggested showed that Hillary was unaware of what was generally going on at the Benghazi mission before the attacks. Hillary, though, countered by pointing out that the email exchange in question was between two members of the State Department who were not on her staff.
You’ve Got Mail
11:22 a.m.: Republican Rep. Susan Brooks brought along two stacks of Clinton emails to use as props and asks why there’s “nothing in the emails” about the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. “I did not do the vast majority of my work from email,” Clinton responds. “I don’t want you to have a mistaken impression of what I did and how I did it. Most of my work was not done on emails with my closest aides, with State Department officials, with the White House.”
Hillary went on to say that her average day began with a CIA briefing and continued with several classified briefings and one-on-one, face-to-face meetings throughout the day—“some of them so top secret that they were brought into my room in a closed briefcase that I had immediately to read and return to the courier.”
11:00 a.m.: GOP Rep. Peter Roskam is up first, and the tension is clear from the outset as a staffer passes Clinton a note. “I can pause while you’re reading your notes from your staff,” the lawmaker told Clinton. “I can do more than one thing at a time, congressman, thank you,” Clinton responds. Later, Hillary receives another note. “Go ahead and read your notes if you need to,” Roskam says.
10:55 a.m.: We’re moving into the Q-and-A portion of the hearing. A quick refresher on who’s all here.
Joining Chairman Trey Gowdy (S.C.) on the Republican side of the aisle are: Reps. Susan Brooks (Indiana), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mike Pompeo (Kansas), Martha Roby (Alabama), Peter Roskam (Illinois), and Lynn Westmoreland (Georgia). Joining Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (Maryland) on the Democratic side are: Reps. Adam Smith (Washington), Adam Schiff (California), Linda Sanchez (California), and Tammy Duckworth (Illinois).
Playing Nice, Looking Nice
10:52 a.m.: Gowdy points out that he did not interrupt Clinton during her opening statement and promises he won’t when she’s answering questions. “I don’t plan on cutting off any of your answers,” the chairman says. Republicans want to avoid a repeat of last month’s Planned Parenthood hearing in a different House committee, where they repeatedly cut off Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.
10:45 a.m.: Hillary Clinton focuses her opening statement on the four Americans who were killed during the Benghazi attacks: Ambassador Chris Stevens; diplomat Sean Smith; and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, two former Navy SEALs-turned-CIA security contractors. It looks like she’ll try to leave the partisan counterpunches to the panel’s Democrats.
Clinton Is the Only Witness, but She’s Not Alone
10:32 a.m.: Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Benghazi panel, is up next—and he wastes no time blasting the Republican-led panel. “Clearly, it is possible to conduct a serious, bipartisan investigation,” said the Maryland Democrat. “What is impossible is for any reasonable person to continue denying that Republicans are squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on this abusive effort to derail Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign.”
Expect plenty more of this. The 12-lawmaker panel has five Democrats on it, and all five will come to Hillary’s defense at every chance they get.
“It Is Not About You”
10:18 a.m: Gowdy spent much of his opening statement making the case for why his panel still exists, using the refrain “this committee is the first committee” to list what he says is the new ground his panel has covered that the eight previous congressional probes and internal State Department report on Benghazi did not.
He also told Clinton that his panel’s focus is not only about her, despite how it often appears. “Madame Secretary, I understand some people—frankly in both parties—have suggested this investigation is about you,” Gowdy told her. “Let me assure you it is not.” The next few hours will put that claim to the test.
And We’re Off
10:03 a.m. Gowdy begins by welcoming Clinton and telling her that while there will be a number of scheduled breaks throughout the day, he’s also willing to pause whenever she would like. “We can take a break for any reason,” he tells the former secretary of state, “or no reason.” Opening statements up next.
9:55 a.m.: Chairman Trey Gowdy will be running the show and has promised to keep Clinton around until all of his panel’s questions are answered, suggesting Hillary and everyone else is in for a loooong day. The hearing is expected to last well into the afternoon—and possibly even through the evening into the night. Things should be getting started shortly.