We Counted Every Question: The Benghazi Hearing Was Dominated By Debunked Media Myths And Things Clinton Already Answered
316 questions -- and we already knew the answers.
The 11-hour Benghazi Select Committee hearing featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a marathon of old news. Media Matters' review of the entire “pointless” event found that the vast majority of questions demanded Clinton confirm facts that were already on the record, thanks to previous testimony by other officials, reporting on the ground, and Clinton's own past statements.
In particular, a significant number of the questions from Republicans rehashed common conservative media myths about Benghazi, or seemingly bore no relevance to the 2012 terrorist attacks.
Of the 316 total questions, according to our count Republican members of the committee asked 249.
About 75 of their questions -- 30 percent -- involved information that was already specifically discussed during Clinton's first day of hearings in front of Congress in January 2013. Those hearings (she appeared twice on the same day before both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee) only lasted a total of about five hours and 35 minutes, but Clinton and her questioners managed to provide a plethora of information that yesterday's Select Committee was apparently unaware existed.
For instance, Clinton had already answered questions about who handled requests for increased security at Benghazi prior to the 2012 attacks. She had already answered questions about why, in the days following the attacks, she had -- like the intelligence community and eyewitnesses on the ground -- discussed the anti-Muslim video that sparked worldwide protests and which the alleged terrorists themselves cited as a motivation. And she had already explained that the compound in Benghazi was a “temporary” facility, and thus not under the normal regulations for more typical consulates and embassies.
Despite Clinton having answered all of those questions before, Republicans on the committee kept asking them, including at least 12 full questions referencing the anti-Muslim video and how the attacks were initially described by the administration. This fixation on old news came straight from right-wing media, which has spent the last three years doing backflips trying to insist that there are unanswered questions -- even occasionally contradicting their own previous reporting.
One question from Republicans, in fact, came directly from a conservative media conspiracy theorist. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) asked Clinton if she had personally signed a waiver for the Benghazi facility, allowing it to not meet certain security requirements (emphasis added):
But I have to ask you if you're familiar with the fact that in the wake of the 1998 bombing attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Congress passed something referred to as SECCA -- the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act, which requires the secretary of state to issue a waiver if, under two conditions, if U.S. government personnel work in separate facilities; or if U.S. overseas facilities do not meet the security setback distances specified by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The law specifies that only the secretary of state may sign these waivers and that requirement is not to be delegated. Was a waiver issued for the temporary mission in Benghazi and the CIA annex after the temporary mission compound was authorized through December of 2012? And did you sign that waiver, Madam Secretary?
The Benghazi temporary mission, as Clinton explained to Brooks, did not require this kind of waiver. As Media Matters previously laid out over a year ago, the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated Benghazi noted that the Benghazi facility was exempted from SECCA. SECCA applies to diplomatic facilities, such as consulates, that are officially notified to the host governments. Instead, the special mission in Benghazi was a “temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government,” and as such SECCA rules -- waivable or not -- did not apply.
This question of waivers first surfaced in conservative reporter Aaron Klein's conspiracy book, The Real Benghazi Story. Klein is a reporter for conspiracy website WND, which is probably best known for its obsession with President Obama's birth certificate. He has previously speculated that Obama might be a Muslim who works “with” Al-Qaeda, given his “Islamic background,” and wondered whether Obama is Satan, because a fly landed on him.
That's who Republicans got their hard-hitting Benghazi question from.
But at least those questions were (sort of) related to Benghazi in 2012. About 52 of the GOP's questions to Clinton were not directly about Benghazi or Libya at all, while about 56 questions -- over 20 percent -- focused on Clinton's use of private email and a private email server. (And those 56 don't count many questions that were based on the content of those emails.) Finally, 35 questions revolved around Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton friend and former staffer in her husband's White House and a consultant to Media Matters.
In fact, Media Matters was mentioned three times.
Republicans on the committee insisted that questions about Clinton's email and association with Blumenthal were related to their investigation, because “to get to the truth about Benghazi we need the complete record.”
37 months, seven completed investigations, a litany of media fact checks, and 11 hours later, it's unclear what could possibly be missing from the record. But right-wing media are already defending the committee and restarting the endless cycle of falsehoods, so we can look forward to hearing those 316 questions again and again and again.
Additional research provided by: Cydney Hargis, Julie Alderman, Tyler Cherry