Trump’s Latest Clinton Attack Comes Straight Out Of Fox News’ Benghazi Playbook

››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released an online video accusing Hillary Clinton of lying about the cause of the September 11, 2012, Benghazi, Libya attacks. Trump’s video echoes Fox News’ favorite and oft-repeated smear that Clinton deliberately lied by linking an inflammatory anti-Muslim video to the attacks, and ignores the fact that intelligence reports said initial information about the cause of the attacks was conflicting and that reports have linked the anti-Muslim video to the attacks.

Trump Releases Online Video Suggesting Hillary Clinton Lied About Cause Of Benghazi Attacks

Trump Online Video Accuses Clinton Of Lying About Cause Of Benghazi Attacks. Donald Trump released an online video on May 10 attacking Hillary Clinton over the 2012 Benghazi attacks. According to The Washington Post, Trump’s video “takes aim at confusion over what caused the attacks on a diplomatic compound that was initially linked by Obama administration officials to rage over an anti-Muslim video released online.” The video echoes accusations by Clinton’s critics to suggest she lied about the cause of the attacks. From the May 10 Washington Post article:

Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday knocked Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy judgment in a video ad released on social media that focuses on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The short clip takes aim at confusion over what caused the attacks on a diplomatic compound that was initially linked by Obama administration officials to rage over an anti-Muslim video released online. The September 2012 attacks left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

“Hillary has bad judgment!” Trump wrote on Instagram, where he released the clip before tweeting it out to his 8 million Twitter followers.

[…]

"We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video," Clinton is seen saying at the beginning of the clip released Tuesday by Trump.

[…]

"She lied to me, she told me it was the fault of the video," says Patricia Smith, the mother of one of the victims, in footage that flashes on screen from an interview with Fox Business.

[…]

The clip ends with footage of Clinton laughing, as dramatic flames appear superimposed in the clip. “Never forget!” reads a closing caption. [The Washington Post, 5/10/16]

Fox News Has Repeatedly Dismissed the Role Of The Anti-Muslim Video To Accuse Clinton Of Deliberately Misleading About The Cause Of The Attacks

Fox’s Marc Thiessen: Allegation Clinton Misled About Attacks Is The "Smoking Gun That We Were Never Supposed To See." Fox contributor Marc Thiessen claimed that allegations that Clinton spread a “false narrative” about the attacks being related to an anti-Muslim video "give us the smoking gun" that proves Hillary Clinton was "covering up" the motivations behind the Benghazi attacks. From the October 22, 2015, edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File:

MEGYN KELLY (HOST): I understand Hillary Clinton's later defense today at the hearing, which was, "I still believe"-- she says, "I still believe that the video played some role." But I heard no explanation from her as to if that was her belief, if that's her belief today, why she told the Egyptian prime minister "we know that this attack had nothing to do with the film. We know it was a planned attack and not a protest." Why did she say that if, to this day, she believes it was about a video?

MARC THIESSEN: Because she doesn't believe it was about a video. Because she's covering up what we weren't supposed to hear. What Congressman Jordan did today was give us the smoking gun that we were never supposed to see. Which is the internal thoughts that she had in her communications with her family, with foreign leaders telling them this was an Al Qaeda attack, this was a pre-planned attack. I mean, she, at the same time that she was going out and saying this was about an inflammatory video, she said there -- she said it was an attack. She never used the word terrorism. She never used the word Al Qaeda. At the same time she was doing that almost simultaneously. She sent an email to her daughter, Chelsea saying two of our officers were just killed by an attack with the group affiliated with Al Qaeda. She told foreign leaders this. And this is the problem with this Megyn, is that I think that the American people would not have blamed them for Benghazi if they had stepped forward, if she and President Obama have stepped forward and said, America has come under attack by Al Qaeda on the anniversary of September 11, 2001. We're going to get the people who did this. And I think Americans would have rallied to them. But they didn't do that. They lied about it and that's what I think is unforgivable.

KELLY: Here's what she says about that: Basically, that email to her family. She says the night of the attack Al Qaeda made this, Al Qaeda affiliated group made a claim of responsibility, that they then pulled back the next day. And she says, as the intel coming to her and everyone else in the administration changed, so too, did their message. And yet, what she says to the Egyptian leader is, "we know, we know" -- she's coming out, already the messages were conflicting because she's saying one thing to him and she's saying something else publicly. But she didn't say "we believe and we still have to investigate." [Fox News, The Kelly File, 10/22/15]

Fox's Chris Wallace: Allegation That Clinton Privately Described The Attack As Terrorism Is "In Direct Contradiction" To The White House's Explanation. Fox’s Chris Wallace told network host Jon Scott that Clinton privately described the Benghazi attack as terrorism and made no mention of the video, which he said "goes against the line that was coming out of the White House and from the State Department." Wallace said, "Clinton spoke there at a ceremony attended, of course, by the relatives of the four people who had been killed. Mrs. Clinton talked specifically at that time about the video, no mention at all of Al Qaeda, no mention at all of a terror attack, so this seems in direct contradiction to that." From the October 22, 2015, edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:

CHRIS WALLACE: This is a note that supposedly, I guess, clearly Hillary Clinton sent the night of the attack. It was just sent to her family, not which member of her family, saying that it was a terror attack and no mention of the video. That certainly goes against the line that was coming out of the White House and from the State Department, and of course, we've got to remember Jim Jordan, that Ohio congressman who was asking about that didn't draw the link, but we all remember that when the caskets of the four U.S. diplomatic people brought back to Andrews Air Force Base and President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton spoke there at a ceremony attended, of course, by the relatives of the four people who had been killed, Mrs. Clinton talked specifically at that time about the video, no mention at all of Al Qaeda, no mention at all of a terror attack. So this seems in direct contradiction to that.

JON SCOTT (HOST): And it does seem important to remember the timing of all of this, less than two months before President Obama was running for reelection and that, sort of to me it seems, gets lost very often in the discussion of who said what when and exactly what was said.

[...]

WALLACE: Congressman Jordan with those quite explosive emails, in which we hear that not only was she telling her family, but she was also telling the Libyan president and the foreign minister of Egypt that it was a terror attack in the immediate aftermath of the attack. [Fox News, Happening Now, 10/22/15]

Fox's Hannity: Clinton "Chose ... To Rant About A Phantom Movie That May Or May Not Exist." In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Fox host Sean Hannity attacked Hillary Clinton along with the Obama administration for citing the anti-Muslim video as a catalyst for the attack, saying that Obama administration officials "now appear to be buying into a narrative that the trailer for a low-budget anti-Muslim film is actually responsible for the chaos in the streets in the Middle East." He then said that Clinton "rant[ed] about a phantom movie that may or may not exist,” on the September 13, 2012, edition of his Fox News show. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/13/12, via Nexis]

Fox's Eric Bolling: Clinton's Reference To Anti-Muslim Video Was A "Diversion Tactic." Fox host Eric Bolling said Clinton pointing to the anti-Muslim video as a catalyst for the attack was a “diversion tactic,” on the September 13, 2012, edition of Fox News’ The Five:

ERIC BOLLING (CO-HOST): Some people are trying to blame [an] obscure movie, a YouTube movie, for murders of Americans and escalating violence. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mind-numbingly doubled down on this diversion tactic today. [Fox News, The Five, 9/13/12, via Nexis]

Fox News Immediately Said The Trump Video Using Fox Talking Points Was “Accurate”

Fox's Peter Johnson Jr.: Trump Video "Accurately" Depicted Clinton’s Statements On Cause Of Benghazi Attacks. Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. claimed Trump's video was "accurately showing clips of Clinton regarding Benghazi, and agreed with Trump's criticism of the claim that "somehow it was a video that propelled this terror attack that killed these brave Americans." From the May 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

PETER JOHNSON JR.: We see here Donald Trump accurately, in some sense, showing clips with regard to statements that were made by Hillary Clinton to family members as to what happened. That somehow it was a video that propelled this terror attack that killed these brave Americans, and so we also are going to see Hillary Clinton now using the words of former Republican rivals of Donald Trump to say he's a con artist, he's amoral, he's this and that. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/11/16]

But Initial Intelligence Regarding The Attackers And Their Motivations Was "Piecemeal" And "Conflicting"

House Intelligence Committee: Initial Intelligence Surrounding The Attackers' Identities And Motives Was "Piecemeal" And "Conflicting." The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Benghazi investigation found that in the wake of the attacks, "intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers," and that "much of the early intelligence was conflicting":

After reviewing hundreds of pages of raw intelligence, as well as open source information, it was clear that between the time when the attacks occurred and when the Administration, through Ambassador Susan Rice, appeared on theSunday talk shows, intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers, as well as the level of planning and/or coordination. Much of the early intelligence was conflicting, and two years later, intelligence gaps remain.

Various witnesses and senior military officials serving in the Obama Administration testified to this Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee that they knew from the moment the attacks began that the attacks were deliberate terrorist acts against U.S. interests. 125 No witness has reported believing at any point that the attacks were anything but terrorist acts.

Along those lines, in the Rose Garden on September 12, 2012, President Obama said that four "extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi," and said that: "[ n ]o acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."

However, it was not clear whether the terrorist attacks were committed by al-Qa'ida or by various groups of other bad actors, some of who may have been affiliated with al-Qa'ida. Early CIA, NCTC, DIA, and CJCS intelligence assessments on September 12th and 13th stated that members of AAS and various al-Qa'ida affiliates "likely," "probably," or "possibl[y]" participated in the attacks. [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 11/21/14]

And The Intelligence Community, The Suspected Attackers, And Eyewitnesses All Linked The Anti-Muslim Video To The Attacks

Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Intel Reports Linked Inflammatory Video To Benghazi Attack. A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review of the Benghazi attack found that "some intelligence suggests" an inflammatory video linked to violent protests around the region led terror groups to conduct "similar attacks with advanced warning":

It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]

NY Times: Suspected Benghazi Ringleader Told Witnesses The Benghazi Attack Was In Response To Inflammatory Anti-Muslim Video. According to The New York Times, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who was captured in June 2014 by U.S. military on an indictment for murder in connection with his role as a suspected ringleader of the Benghazi attacks, "told fellow Islamist fighters" on the night of the attack "and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video" mocking Islam that inspired demonstrations in Cairo:

During the assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, Mr. Abu Khattala was a vivid presence. Witnesses saw him directing the swarming attackers who ultimately killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

[...]

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy's walls -- images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.

In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. [The New York Times, 6/18/14]

NY Times: "The Attackers" In Benghazi "Did Tell Bystanders That They Were Attacking The Compound Because They Were Angry About The Video." The New York Times reported that on the night of the Benghazi attacks, attackers "did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video" (emphasis original):

What do eyewitnesses say about the events in Benghazi? Were they related to the insulting video, or is that a red herring? And was the assault planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or was it spontaneous?

According to reporting by David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway of The New York Times, eyewitnesses have said there was no peaceful demonstration against the video outside the compound before the attack, though a crowd of Benghazi residents soon gathered, and some later looted the compound. But the attackers, recognized as members of a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video. They did not mention the Sept. 11anniversary. Intelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place. [The New York Times, 10/17/12]

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