The State Department released Friday its first round of emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, offering a new look at her handling of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
The roughly 300 emails, about 850 pages, are part of the 30,000 that she turned over to State from her private email server, which she used almost exclusively to conduct both private and public business during her time at State. They reveal a range of correspondence from Clinton, everything from policy briefs to scheduling requests to friendly exchanges with staff.
One email, sent four days before Christmas in 2012, Secretary Clinton sent a note to her entire state department staff, acknowledging a “challenging week.” She had fainted about a week prior and suffered a concussion, which prevented her from testifying before House and Senate committees on the attacks.
“We need to learn from the tragedy in Benghazi and make every possible improvement — and we will,” she wrote in the five-paragraph note.
One day earlier, Clinton wrote in an email to two top aides headed to the Hill on her behalf: “I’ll be nursing my cracked head and cheering you on as you ‘remain calm and carry on!”
In most emails, she’s referred to simply as “H.”
One email hints at the scrutiny the State Department was facing over Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attacks in the weeks following. In their remarks the day after the attack, both Clinton and President Barack Obama made reference to an anti-Muslim video that some intelligence initially suggested prompted the attacks, which was later found to be mistaken.
On Sept. 24, 2012, Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at State, forwards her a 24-page document compiling all of the statements she had made after the attacks, and reassures her that she was careful in her wording.
“You never said spontaneous or characterized the motives. In fact you were careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method,” he says.
Sullivan also writes: “The way you treated the video in the Libya context was to say that some sought to *justify* the attack on that basis.”
Some newsworthy moments from the first trove:
Advice on foreign affairs
Clinton received advice on foreign affairs from a range of former advisers from outside of the Department, not just Sidney Blumenthal, the former journalist and longtime Clinton ally who’s drawn scrutiny for issuing over two dozen memos to Clinton on Libya.
In a September 2012 email, Burns Strider, a senior adviser and director of Faith and Values Outreach on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, forwards her a post from CNN’s Belief blog by Stephen Prothero titled “My Take: A deadly link between Islamic and anti-Islamic terrorists.” She typically forwards these to State Department aides.
Praise from McCain’s team
Christian Brose, Sen. John McCain’s national security adviser, emailed Sullivan on Sept. 12, 2012, the day Clinton gave a speech honoring those who died in the attacks, sending his boss’ compliments. “What a wonderful, strong and moving statement by your boss. Please tell her how much Sen. McCain appreciated it. Me too,” he wrote.
Thoughts on the media
A transcript of an interview with Wall Street Journal Reporter Monica Langley was circulated among a few top aides with commentary from Philippe Reines, a longtime spokesman for Clinton.
He declared the October 10, 2012, conversation as an “awesome interview.” But he went on to say that Langley violated Clinton’s personal space, by moving her chair knee-to-knee with the Secretary, comparing it to “the dental hygienist rolling around the floor to get the best access to your mouth depending on which tooth she was trying to get access to.”
“I’ve never seen a Westerner invade her space like that,” Reines wrote. But he went on to describe the interview as “wonderful. One of the best interviews I’ve ever witnesses. Wish it were on live TV.”
Clinton on the campaign trail
Facing considerable backlash and deep skepticism over her use of a private server as she makes her second bid for the White House, Clinton asked State to make her emails public this past March, and repeated her public push to have them released on the campaign trail this week.
The State Department initially planned to release them in January 2016, but a federal judge ruled this week that there should be a “rolling production” of the emails, and they must be disclosed publicly in batches before then. Clinton called for State to expedite their release this week in Iowa, saying “nobody has a bigger interest in getting [the emails] released than I do.”
A congressional panel investigating the Benghazi attacks, meanwhile, has had the emails related to Benghazi and Libya since February.
Details of Clinton’s email habits that have trickled out over the past few months suggest she used email sparingly, mostly for logistics and to forward information to aides. She’s said previously that she was careful to never use email to exchange classified information, and the initial batch isn’t expected to show otherwise — the highest classification of messages was “sensitive but unclassified.”
On Thursday, the New York Times published a portion of the emails relating to Benghazi, which include a handful from controversial Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal tipping Clinton off to volatile conditions on the ground in Libya, including one blaming the Benghazi attacks on an anti-Muslim video, which he later walked back.
The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee released a statement praising the State Department’s decision to release all of the emails pertaining to the attacks at once and said they would vindicate Democrats’ assertion that Clinton did nothing inappropriate in her response.
“Instead of the selective leaking that has happened so far, the American people can now read all of these emails and see for themselves that they contain no evidence to back up claims that Secretary Clinton ordered a stand-down, approved an illicit weapons program, or any other wild allegation Republicans have made for years,” Rep. Elijah Cummings said in the statement.
He added: “The Select Committee should schedule Secretary Clinton’s public testimony now and stop wasting taxpayer money dragging out this political charade to harm Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.”
But panel chairman Trey Gowdy vehemently disagreed, characterizing the emails released as providing a selective and incomplete picture because a team of attorneys working for Clinton chose which ones to send to State, and saying “unresolved questions” still remain about Benghazi.
“We will not reach any investigative conclusions until our work is complete, but these emails continue to reinforce the fact that unresolved questions and issues remain as it relates to Benghazi,” he said.
Gowdy said that to get a full picture, Clinton should turn over her servers to a “a neutral, detached, independent third party for review.”
“The Committee’s interest is in building a complete record from which the final, definitive accounting regarding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi can be provided. The best way to answer all questions related to the attacks in Benghazi continues to be having access to the full public record, not a “record” controlled, possessed and screened exclusively by Secretary Clinton’s personal lawyers.”