ANDREA MITCHELL: Why, then, do you call [Hillary Clinton’s outside adviser] Sid Blumenthal and [deputy chief of staff] Huma Abedin and all of these other personal aides and non-aides? Why have you focused so much on e-mails and not on the central question of why was the security failure at that consulate [in Benghazi, Libya]?
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-Kan.): Well, we have focused on the central failure. We have focused on the security issues, and we will continue. You’ll see lots of questions about that on Thursday. But let me speak to Mr. Blumenthal. It goes directly to the security issue. We see now that former secretary [Clinton] relied on Mr. Blumenthal for most of her intelligence. That is, she was relying —
MITCHELL: That is factually not correct.
POMPEO: No, it is absolutely factually correct.
MITCHELL: Relied on Mr. Blumenthal for most of her intelligence?
POMPEO: Ms. Mitchell, take a look at the e-mails trails and you will see —
MITCHELL: I cover the State Department. That is just factually not correct, and I’ve been as tough on this issue as anyone.
POMPEO: We just have a factual disagreement.
— exchange on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Oct. 18, 2015
We always enjoy it when reporters instantly fact-check politicians on their talking points.
Pompeo asserted that, with regards to security before the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton relied on an outside adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, “for most of her intelligence.” Andrea Mitchell immediately objected: “I cover the State Department. That is just factually not correct, and I’ve been as tough on this issue as anyone.”
Pompeo responded, “We just have a factual disagreement.”
So we wondered: Is there evidence that would support Pompeo’s claim?
It took nearly 24 hours for Pompeo’s staff to provide a response detailing his evidence. Here’s the statement from spokeswoman Caroline Taylor:
According to the documents provided to the House Benghazi Committee, Mr. Blumenthal was by far Clinton’s most prolific emailer on Libya. There is zero evidence that Secretary Clinton received emails from any U.S. government employees on the ground in Libya. Rep. Pompeo’s statement on Meet the Press was made specifically with regards to Benghazi and Libya, since that was the topic of the interview. Secretary Clinton’s emails clearly show that Clinton received intelligence reports from Mr. Blumenthal, read them, and then solicited Blumenthal’s additional input. Her emails do not show she did that with other potential sources of Libyan intelligence.
In other words, Pompeo appears to be peeling back his statement. It is no longer that Clinton got most of her intelligence on Libyan security from Blumenthal, but that she got many e-mails on Libya from Blumenthal in her private e-mail system, compared with people on the ground.
But it’s silly to think that rank-and-file State Department employees would be e-mailing the secretary of state directly about conditions in Libya. Clinton generally communicated with her immediate staff or senior officials on her private e-mail.
The vast bureaucracy of the State Department has a separate cable reporting system, both classified and unclassified, for the dissemination of information from the lower ranks up to the top. More than 1 million cables are sent from the field to headquarters a year, all technically addressed to the secretary of state.
Within the private e-mails that have been released, one can see that top aides at times forwarded to Clinton various media statements or updates about the activities of diplomat Christopher Stevens in Libya. But Stevens’s field reports would have come through the official cable reporting system.
Indeed, one of the main issues raised in the various Benghazi probes is that security concerns expressed at lower levels were rejected or ignored by the mid-level officials. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported there were many intelligence reports that attacks were being plotted. The State Department’s Accountability Review Board found “a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing.”
As we noted when reporting on the famous Aug. 16 cable — in which the regional security officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend [the Benghazi] Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound” — it was striking that Defense Department officials said they appeared more aware of the security situation at U.S. diplomatic facilities than the secretary of state. (Indeed, Stevens is reported to have twice turned down an offer of additional security from DOD.)
But that’s a separate issue than the missives that Clinton was receiving from Blumenthal, a former Washington Post reporter who is a family friend of Clinton’s. He has testified that he was copying and pasting memos from Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA official who was seeking a Libya-related business venture. (Drumheller, who exposed faulty intelligence about Iraq’s weapons problems, passed away in August.)
Reading through the Blumenthal e-mails, posted on the State Department Web site, one sees that this is mostly gossip of dubious value. (Invariably, Blumenthal would hype that his information came from “sources with direct access to the Libyan National Transitional Council, as well as the highest levels of European Governments, and Western Intelligence and security services.”) Sometimes Clinton would forward it on to an aide, sometimes not.
For instance, on Aug. 27, 2012, Blumenthal claimed that the new Libyan president would “seek a discreet relationship with Israel” as he “shares many common friends and associates with the leaders of Israel and intends to take advantage of this situation to improve the lot of the Libyan people.” Clinton forwarded on the e-mail to top policy aide Jake Sullivan with the comment: “If true, this is encouraging. Should consider passing to Israelis.”
Every so often, Blumenthal discussed the security situation. On Aug. 23, in a memo mostly about the political maneuvering in Libya, he wrote: “Earlier in August, three car bombs exploded near the Ministry of Interior in Tripoli, killing two people and wounding three others. This sensitive source added that security officers arrested 32 members of what they describe as an organized network of Gaddafi loyalists linked to the attacks.”
“Very interesting,” Clinton wrote Sullivan when she forwarded the e-mail. Sullivan responded, “Yes. Some warning signs.”
But most of Blumenthal’s comments on the security situation were sent after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed Stevens and three other Americans. On Sept. 12, for instance, Blumenthal claimed that the president “gave permission to commanders on the ground for security forces to open fire over the heads of the crowds in an effort to break up mobs attacking the missions.”
The Pinocchio Test
Mitchell was right to call out Pompeo for his claim on national television. One can certainly wonder why Clinton was forwarding to aides the unverified gossip provided by Blumenthal. It is certain worth asking whether his memos influenced her decision-making.
But that’s a different matter than claiming that most of her intelligence she received on Libya’s security situation came from her friend. Few of his e-mails before the attacks touched on the security situation. Moreover, looking at her private e-mails is just part of the picture, and it ignores the vast amount of information — much of it classified — that is available to the secretary of state. Pompeo should think twice before making such broad claims on national television.
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