During a long day of testifying before House and Senate panels, outgoing Secretary of State - and presumptive Democratic Party candidate for the presidency in 2016 - Hillary Clinton batted away contentious questions from Republicans like Ted Williams at a Little League game. She also soaked up extreme adulation from Democrats (including a a not-so-coded call to run for president by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who said, "You will be missed, but I for one hope for not too long").
The scene reminded me of nothing so much as Oliver North's appearance before a joint Congressional committee investigating Iran-Contra back in the 1980s. Not because of anything Clinton said but the way that she carried herself and the ease with which she wrapped herself in the flag and tragedy to obscure the simple fact that she wasn't going to answer anything. North famously showed up to testify in a military uniform that had nothing to do with his day job of subverting the U.S. Constitution from the basement of the Reagan White House. Clinton couldn't repeat that fashion statement but she was able to pound the table and choke up at all the right moments to evade serious discussion not simply of major screw-ups, but major screw-ups that will go unaccounted for.
Three major evasions from her appearances yesterday include:
From a Fox News report of the Senate hearing:
During the opening of the hearing, Clinton said she has "no higher priority" than the security of her department's staff, and that she is committed to making the department "safer, stronger and more secure."
"As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right," Clinton said, later choking up when describing how she greeted the families of the victims when the caskets were returned.
Taking responsibility is the classic dodge in Washington, where pols assume the mantle of leadership and them promptly do nothing to address the situation for which they are in hot water. What does it mean to take responsiblity for the absolute breakdown of security at a consulate where your ambassador gets murdered (along with three others)? Judging from Clinton's subsequent actions, nothing other than showing up when the dead are brought home. Worse still is Clinton's misting up over the tragedy. That makes her a little too much like the kid who kills his parents and then asks the court to take mercy on him because he's now an orphan.
ABC News reporting from the House hearings:
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Clinton this afternoon why her office had not responded to a notification from Stevens about potential dangers in Libya.
"Congressman, that cable did not come to my attention," Clinton calmly told the House Foreign Affairs Committee hours after her Senate testimony this morning. "I'm not aware of anyone within my office, within the secretary's office having seen that cable."
She added that "1.43 million cables come to my office. They're all addressed to me."
Come on, already. The question is plainly not whether Clinton is reading every goddamned communication addressed to her but whether she's got the right people in charge of assessing risk and making sure resources are apportioned accordingly. Tragically, the answer was no, especially given the fact that State had cut security in Benghazi despite attacks prior to the deadly 9/11 one! This just ain't no way to run things.
From a CBS News account of a confrontation between Secretary Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.):
“We were misled that there were supposedly protests and an assault spraying out of that and it was easily obtained that it was not the fact the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.
“The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton responded.
Clinton's statement may set a new standard for politically motivated evasions of basic truth and decency. Seriously: What difference does it make? Just for low-stakes starters, there's a guy in California who was put in jail basically because the Obama administration said his stupid, irrelevant video trailer for "The Innocence of Muslims" was to blame for anti-Americanism in Libya and beyond. President Obama went to the United Nations and bitch-slapped free expression in front of a global audience on the premise that "Innocence" was the cause of the attack on Benghazi. Our own U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, took to the talk shows to peddle a line that was either wilfully misleading or simply totally wrong (Rice was the admin's point person in early appearances about Benghazi partly because, as Clinton explained yesterday, she doesn't like doing Sunday morning shows!).
Contra Clinton, it makes a great deal of difference because understanding how this all happened is the first step to making sure it doesn't happen over and over and over again.
Congressional grillings of outgoing cabinet members are not the best forum to seek truth and justice and too many of the GOP inquisitors seem determined merely to score partisan points. Then again, the Obama adminstration, at least when it comes to Benghazi, hasn't done much to be the transparent change it says it wants in all areas of government. After a blistering Senate report on the situation found "systematic failures," essentially nothing happened (at least that we know about). Two minor staffers have been booted as a result of Clinton's taking of "responsibility."
Worse still: As Hillary Clinton leaves the high-stakes world of international intrigue, she's set to be replaced by John Kerry, who somehow manages to be an interventionist and supposedly informed by the nation's experience in Vietnam at the same time.
So things can - and likely will - only get worse.