The newly released Hillary Clinton Benghazi emails do not contain any communications relating to security from the critical last month before the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. facility in Libya. During that period, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who along with three other Americans would die in the attack, warned Clinton and other State Department officials of a growing danger, indeed a security emergency, in Libya. Stevens specifically noted that the possibility of an attack on Americans was growing, and, if such an attack occurred, the U.S. contingent did not have the strength to repel it. But to judge from the emails made public Friday, Clinton gave not a thought to the matter.
Go back to August 2012. On the 15th of that month, U.S. security officers in Libya held an "emergency" meeting to address the very real possibility that growing violence in the area could soon target Americans. The next day, Aug. 16, Stevens sent a cable to Clinton concluding that the Americans in Libya could not defend U.S. facilities "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 a clear call for help, one that, judging by the newly-public emails, went entirely unheard at the highest level of the State Department. Apart from some hugger-mugger analyses of Libyan politics by Clinton's friend Sidney Blumenthal, there is nothing at all in the emails concerning Benghazi from the month before the attack.
Clinton has long maintained she never saw the Aug. 16, 2012 cable. "That cable did not come to my attention," Clinton testified under oath before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013. "I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention or above the assistant-secretary level, where the [State Department internal investigation] placed responsibility."
Clinton explained that she was simply too busy, and there were simply too many cables, for her to see every one. "One-point-43 million cables a year come to the State Department," she told the House committee. "They're all addressed to me. They do not all come to me."
But wasn't that Aug. 16, 2012 cable — warning of dire consequences should the existing violence in Libya target Americans — a pretty important communication? What struck Republicans investigating Benghazi is that, while they knew Clinton was indeed busy, other equally busy top Obama administration officials did read the cable. In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, both former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey — two busy men with pretty big jobs — testified they knew about it
"You were aware that Ambassador Stevens — of his cable that said that the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack, is that right?" Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, N.H., asked Panetta.
"Correct," said Panetta.
"General, you had said that you previously were aware of that?" Ayotte said to Dempsey.
"Yes, I was aware of the communication back to the State Department," Dempsey answered.
Clinton, on the other hand, insists to this day that she knew nothing. And there is nothing in the newly-released emails to contradict her sworn testimony on the matter. That should not come as a surprise to anyone. After all, because Clinton kept her communications on a separate, secret system, the only emails that State Department officials possess are the ones Clinton has given them. Clinton and her lawyers, of course, chose the emails that she gave to the State Department and then destroyed all of her email communications, including backups. Could anyone possibly be surprised that nothing Clinton turned over to the State Department — and ultimately to the public — contradicted her testimony under oath?
The period leading up to the Benghazi attacks is the most critical time in the entire tragic episode. What did Clinton know about the danger to American officials there, and what did she do about it? That is the key question of Benghazi. What happened afterward — the blame-the-video spin — can be interpreted as an attempt to cover up Clinton's inaction before the attack. Yes, the spin campaign was dishonest. But the more serious offense was allowing the conditions that led to the deaths of Stevens and three other Americans. The crime is worse than the cover-up. And if Republicans thought they would receive any new information in the Clinton-edited version of the emails released Friday, they will surely be disappointed.