Magazine article The New Yorker

The Hillary Hearing

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Hillary Hearing

Article excerpt

THE HILLARY HEARING

The moment Hillary Clinton seemed to realize that her testimony Thursday before the House Select Committee on Benghazi was not going to be a big problem for her or for her campaign came about forty-five minutes in. When the hearing opened, she had regarded the chairman, Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina, with irritated skepticism. She looked as if she might say something rash, if not throw something, and perhaps she might have. Nearly three years ago, in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Benghazi, she lashed out after having been asked many times about U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's comments on the Sunday talk shows about what had instigated the attack, on September 11, 2012, in which four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya, died. "What difference, at this point, does it make?" Clinton demanded. Out of context, she sounded unmoved by the men's deaths. Now, in the House hearing, it seemed to dawn on her that the proper response to her Republican interrogators was not outrage but pity.

Peter Roskam, of Illinois, was laying out a scenario in which Clinton's assumption of a leadership role on Libyan policy "didn't come easy," when he stopped and said, in case he might be overwhelming her, "I can pause while you're reading your notes from your staff." Clinton replied, "I can do more than one thing at a time, Congressman--thanks." A minute or two later, Roskam said, "Go ahead and read the note if you need to." This time, Clinton laughed. "I'm not done with my question," Roskam said; he was just doing her a "courtesy." "That's all right," Clinton responded, with a friendly wave of her hand. From then on, she was in control. "I'm sorry that doesn't fit your narrative, Congressman. I can only tell you what the facts are," she told Jim Jordan, of Ohio, who is the chairman of the Freedom Caucus. As he spoke, she rested her chin on the palm of one hand, as if he were not much more than a loud boor at a party who, puzzlingly, doesn't seem to know how he sounds. When Lynn Westmoreland, of Georgia, informed her that he spoke slowly, Clinton laughed again and said, "I lived in Arkansas a long time. I don't need an interpreter."

But in one sense she did need interpreters, and she got them. There was plenty of combat in the course of the hearings, but on Clinton's side it was waged, for the most part, by the Democrats on the panel, who served as her anger translators. Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, repeatedly called out his Republican counterparts on conspiracy theories mooted and on inaccurate statements made, such as the charge that Clinton had personally turned down requests from Ambassador Stevens for more security. ("Four Pinocchios!") Cummings, in his opening statement, asked why the committee existed at all. The answer that he suggested--"to drive down Secretary Clinton's poll numbers"--seems almost a truism by now; indeed, it has been confirmed by a number of prominent Republicans in less guarded moments.

There have now been seven full investigations of the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack, five in the House and two in the Senate. The Tampa Bay Times's PolitiFact Web site noted recently that it was largely accurate to say that all the investigations found things that could have been done better (such as intelligence sharing) but none found "overt wrongdoing. …

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