A little more than three hours after the State Department released 848 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails, the Daily Beast had seen enough to render its judgment: “Sorry GOP. There’s No Smoking Gun In Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Emails.” The subhead: “Conspiracy-minded conservatives, be warned: The trove of Clinton emails doesn’t prove much about her culpability for the infamous 9/11 anniversary attacks.”
It’s the media version of Frank Drebin: Please disperse, there’s nothing to see here. Trey Gowdy, pack your bags and go home.
Of course, no one actually believed that this batch of emails would produce a smoking gun on Benghazi. Hillary Clinton has sought to avoid public scrutiny of her emails since before she was sworn in as secretary of state. When she did turn over some of her emails to the State Department, it was Clinton and her lawyers who decided which ones they would make available and which they would withhold. While it might be useful for Clinton defenders to pretend otherwise, there was no expectation that Clinton would voluntarily share incriminating emails, especially now, in the first weeks of her presidential campaign.
Yet for journalists interested in reporting on Clinton’s emails rather than hastily exonerating their author, the hundreds of pages released last week included a number of disclosures, some of them inadvertent, that raise new questions about Hillary Clinton, the State Department, Libya, the Benghazi attacks, and presidential politics. The good news: Some journalists are looking for answers. And so are the investigators who work for the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Sidney Blumenthal is at the heart of those new questions. A noted conspiracy monger and longtime Clinton confidant, Blumenthal provided Clinton a steady stream of outside intelligence on Libya while she was secretary of state. Some of his information was accurate and some of it was not, but Clinton thought enough of Blumenthal to circulate his reports to top State Department advisers, sometimes with notes ordering them to take some kind of action in response. Clinton downplayed the Blumenthal emails as “unsolicited” thoughts from an old friend. That doesn’t quite capture the dynamic.
For Blumenthal, friendship with the Clintons came with considerable benefits. Blumenthal had been banned from State Department employment by the Obama administration, and it appears that if he couldn’t collect a government check for advising the Clintons, he would collect one from the Clintons directly. Politico’s Ken Vogel reports that Blumenthal was paid $10,000 a month as an employee of the Clinton Foundation from 2009 to 2013 and the same sum as a consultant after he left the payroll in 2013 through March 2015. According to the New York Times, Blumenthal had access to private intelligence on Libya because he was advising “business associates . . . as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government.”
The deteriorating security situation in Libya generally, and Benghazi specifically, was a dominant theme in the emails. Clinton defenders have sought to insulate her from criticism of inadequate security before the attacks by suggesting that decisions about security for U.S. diplomatic personnel were made well below her level. There are many reasons to be skeptical of those claims. The emails make clear that Clinton was deeply involved in virtually every aspect of Libya policy; one internal State Department email lays out the many ways she drove administration decision-making on Libya. Was Clinton a deeply engaged, hands-on manager of every aspect of Libya policy other than security?
If Clinton wasn’t involved in security decisions, the emails make clear that she should have been. Reports that Clinton received and circulated, from both official and unofficial channels, demonstrate the dire security challenges for Americans in Libya.