Wash. Post's Fact Checker Further Discredits Fox-Promoted GOP Smear Against Clinton

Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog further discredited "absurd" claims by congressional Republicans, pushed by Fox News, that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally approved a reduction in security at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that was attacked on September 11, 2012.

Fox News has spent days promoting a GOP attack on Clinton based on a partisan House report released April 23 that claims Secretary Clinton had seen and denied requests for more security at the Benghazi facility. Special Report host Bret Baier hyped it as a "scathing indictment" the night the report was released and national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin quoted the report's attacks on Clinton. On April 24, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed GOP House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa about the report, claiming that it "sharply contradicts [Clinton's] sworn testimony" that she had not seen any cables about security concerns regarding the Benghazi facility. Fox News also conducted a poll that coincided with the release of the GOP report, which asked voters how they felt about Clinton saying she had not seen the Benghazi security cables.

Kessler examined Kilmeade's interview of Issa over the issue, and explained that the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual stipulates that the department's communications centers add the secretary's names to all messages that go out to overseas posts. Former senior State Department officials who worked under Republican secretaries also confirmed this procedure:

 "A very small fraction would be seen by the Secretary of State," said R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who was undersecretary of state for political affairs under Rice.

Burns said he would only show a cable to Rice if it had very sensitive instructions for an ambassador and he wanted to be sure she agreed with his draft language. But generally he said the secretary is much too busy and would never see the cables. He added that sometimes even assistant secretaries would not view cables that are sent out under the secretary's "signature."

Burns noted that the confusion over "signature" is a common misunderstanding about State Department cables. He frequently has to correct historians from overseas who mistakenly believe the secretary's name at the bottom of the cable has much meaning.

"I can say that from being there with one secretary and reviewing the work of many other secretaries in my academic research, there are many, many cables the secretary never sees," said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin L. Powell.  "From time to time, the deputy may 'chop' [approve], the undersecretary may 'chop', or the assistant secretary or office director may 'chop' -- and the cable goes."

Kessler concluded: "At this point, Issa has no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable," and awarded the claim Four Pinnochios, the highest rating for a false claim.

Other news reports had already undermined this Fox-based smear against Clinton, with The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and a Foreign Policy national security reporter explaining that official cables are routinely sent out bearing the secretary's name. A member of the independent State Department Accountability Review Board that examined the Benghazi attack said that it's "total bullshit" to claim that Clinton saw or sent a specific cable because it bore her signature, as "[m]illions of cable come into" the State Department every year, all addressed to the secretary, and it's "the normal procedure" that "[e]very single cable going out is signed 'Clinton.' "

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