Benghazi Will Never Go Away

As much as she would like to escape the attack’s long shadow, it will continue to dog Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a hearing on March 10, 2011.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
May 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

Someone tweets about Benghazi every 12 seconds. Not every 12 days or every 12 minutes, but every 12 seconds.

Over the past month, that’s ad­ded up to more than 200,000 tweets, ac­cord­ing to the so­cial-me­dia track­ing firm Topsy. And while men­tions of the at­tack on the Amer­ic­an com­pound in Libya soared in the past few days thanks to new rev­el­a­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s hand­ling of the in­cid­ent, Benghazi still scores about 5,000 tweets per day dur­ing the long peri­ods between fresh news de­vel­op­ments.

Not­ably, that’s about the same num­ber of tweets as Hil­lary Clin­ton gets on most days. In fact, over the past 30 days, Benghazi edged out Clin­ton on Twit­ter, earn­ing 219,325 men­tions to Clin­ton’s 219,163 (as of the end of the work­day Thursday.)

If this means any­thing, it’s that the con­tro­versy is not fad­ing with time. It re­mains something — per­haps the biggest thing — that Clin­ton and her team will have to deal with, should she de­cide to run for pres­id­ent, wheth­er she wants to or not.

Clin­ton, who has seen both sides of a scan­dal — first work­ing for con­gres­sion­al Wa­ter­gate in­vest­ig­at­ors and later as the sub­ject of sev­er­al probes her­self — knows as well as any­one that there will al­ways be new, in­cre­ment­al rev­el­a­tions that can re­ignite a sim­mer­ing scan­dal, as long as par­tis­ans have an in­terest in keep­ing it burn­ing.

And Re­pub­lic­ans clearly see be­ne­fits in keep­ing Benghazi in the head­lines. “For Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton, Benghazi will be the de­fin­ing event of her ten­ure as sec­ret­ary of State, so if she chooses to run for pres­id­ent, avoid­ing ad­dress­ing the ques­tions head on will not be an op­tion,” said Tim Miller, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion-re­search group Amer­ica Rising.

The at­tack un­der­cuts one of her key achieve­ments as sec­ret­ary of state — the top­pling of former Liby­an dic­tat­or Muam­mar el-Qad­dafi — and, to a less­er ex­tent, her en­tire ten­ure. As Clin­ton her­self said last week, the at­tack is her “biggest re­gret” from her time at State.

And while it’s far from an Achilles’ heel for the pre­sumed Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans are fa­mil­i­ar with the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to polls, and re­spond­ents to a re­cent Pew sur­vey lis­ted it as Clin­ton’s top weak­ness.

Most im­port­ant, it res­on­ates with voters on the right, and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers will keep the scan­dal alive if for no oth­er reas­on than to mo­bil­ize their own base.

This week, new rev­el­a­tions in­clude an email from Obama na­tion­al se­cur­ity aide Ben Rhodes that ap­pears to show that the White House down­played the pos­sib­il­ity of ter­ror­ism in the af­ter­math of the at­tack, in­stead blam­ing an anti-Muslim video that had sparked vi­ol­ent protests in more than a dozen Muslim coun­tries around the at­tack.

The oth­er piece of news came Thursday in con­gres­sion­al testi­mony from re­tired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lov­ell, who served as deputy dir­ect­or of in­tel­li­gence for the mil­it­ary’s Africa Com­mand, which has jur­is­dic­tion over Libya. “What we did know quite early on was that this was a hos­tile ac­tion. This was no demon­stra­tion gone ter­ribly awry,” Lov­ell said, un­der­min­ing the very case the White House was push­ing in the ini­tial days after the at­tack.

Con­gres­sion­al probes will con­tin­ue, even as Demo­crats cri­ti­cize Re­pub­lic­an in­vest­ig­at­ors’ “em­bar­rass­ing … con­spir­acy the­or­ies” and be­moan the ” mil­lions of dol­lars” spent. And if the Re­pub­lic­ans take the Sen­ate this year, ex­pect the num­ber of in­vest­ig­a­tions to double.

Even — or es­pe­cially — if neither of the tid­bits of news this week con­tained any sub­stant­ive new in­form­a­tion, let alone a smoking gun, the stead­fast in­terest on so­cial me­dia and in the press shows why Clin­ton will likely nev­er be able to en­tirely break free of the at­tack.

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