If Hillary Clinton told one or more bereaved family members at a Sept. 14, 2012 ceremony for the four U.S. personnel killed in Benghazi that "We are going to have the film maker arrested who was responsible for the death of [your] son," that would be big news for at least three reasons. 1) The administration official in charge of American foreign policy (and the biggest Cabinet-level influencer of the U.S. intervention into Libya) would be laying direct responsibility not on the Libyan perpetrators of the deadly, armed, and at least semi-planned attack, but on an amateur filmmaker in Cerritos, California whose allegedly triggering trailer was posted on YouTube three months prior. 2) A secretary of state would be vowing an as-yet unannounced prosecution by a department she does not and certainly should not run. 3) Said prosecution would indeed begin two weeks later. The free-speech implications alone of such a story are huge.
Well, that story has been in the public realm since Oct. 23, 2012, when Charles Woods, father of the slain Tyrone Woods, went on the Lars Larson radio show (and then Glenn Beck, and then Sean Hannity), telling a story that has not changed substantially over time: "She made the statement to me that first of all she was sorry," Woods told Beck, "and then she said 'We will make sure the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.'" Eventually Woods—a retired lawyer and former administrative law judge—would produce a diary (pictured), which The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes saw and described a few months back:
a small leather black datebook…maybe the size of a calculator, with 2012 engraved in gold on the front…. He began reading from the entry that started on September 14, the day of the ceremony, and continued into the space for the following day. It ran just five or six lines, written in pencil.
The relevant part of the entry is this:
I gave Hillary a hug and shook her hand. And she said we are going to have the film maker arrested who was responsible for the death of my son.
Again, this is pretty big news, from a credible-sounding witness (a second family member from that day, Patricia Smith, mother of the killed Sean Smith, has made similar claims, but also in a more hyperbolic manner, and without the corroborating detail). So how long did it take Hillary Clinton to be asked on the record, either by a journalist or member of Congress, to answer this explosive allegation with words other than "no" and "comment"?
Unless I am missing something (and please let me know if I am), more than 1,000 days.
The dam was finally broken this past Dec. 6 by former inner-circle Clinton administration official George Stephanopoulus. The entire relevant exchange; bolding will be mine:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Some GOP rivals and family members of the Benghazi victims are saying you lied to them in that [Oct. 23] hearing. They point to emails that you sent the night of the attack, one to your daughter, Chelsea Clinton, saying…"We were silent…two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al Qaeda-like group." Another one to the Egyptian prime minister, "we know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack, not a protest."
But the family members, as you know, say you told them it was by a filmmaker, you'd go after the filmmaker. Here's what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICIA SMITH: She lied. She absolutely lied. Her daughter was able to be told differently that it was not the video, it was something else. Now if her daughter could be told, why can't I?
CHARLES WOODS: Either she was lying to the prime minister, or she was lying to me and to the American public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you tell them it was about the film? And what's your response?
You know, look I understand the continuing grief at the loss that parents experienced with the loss of these four brave Americans. And I did testify, as you know, for 11 hours. And I answered all of these questions.
Now, I can't—I can't help it the people think there has to be something else there. I said very clearly there had been a terrorist group that had taken responsibility on Facebook between the time that I—you know, when I talked to my daughter, that was the latest information. We were giving it credibility. And then we learned the next day it wasn't true. In fact, they retracted it.
This was a fast moving series of events in the fog of war. And I think most Americans understand.
That last bolded part—"And I answered all of these questions"—is a Clintonian specialty, dating back to ancient WTF scandals like Travelgate, and continuing through the more serious questions about her private email server as secretary of state. At various times during just about any controversy, Clinton will say, with a note of exasperation, that she has already answered or revealed everything anyone could want, even though clearly she has not.
More importantly, we now had a she-said/they-said situation on our hands about an issue of some import. So how did the mainstream media cover this development? Mostly, they did not. Interest in this advancement of the story was almost exclusively covered by conservatives: The Blaze, FrontPage Magazine, Guy Benson at TownHall, and so on.
Well, that changed today. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler this morning put together the most thoroughgoing account of the discrepancies I have seen thus far, including interviews with multiple family members (including several who said they heard no such thing from Hillary Clinton that day), and this new-to-me exchange between the Democratic front-runner and Conway Daily Sun columnist Tom McLaughlin:
McLaughlin: "Somebody is lying. Who is it?"
Clinton: "Not me, that's all I can tell you….I can't recite for you everything that was in a conversation where people were sobbing, where people were distraught, the president and the vice president, we were all making the rounds talking to people, listening to people. I was in a very difficult position because we have not yet said two of the four dead were CIA … This was a part of the fog of war."
Note: If Charles Woods is indeed lying, his lie involves a former lawyer and judge making an intentionally fraudulent entry into his diary. I think there's a good reason why Clinton is giving herself the wiggle room of "I can't recite for you everything that was in a conversation where people were sobbing," while intimating that grief-stricken families may have heard or conflated something that didn't precisely take place like that (a possibility Kessler seriously entertains).
Ultimately, Kessler gives the controversy a "No Rating" on his fact-checking scale, which seems appropriate given what we know, and the reporting he has done to move the story further. His kicker:
Clearly we cannot come to a resolution that would be beyond dispute. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions based on the evidence we have assembled.
It's a shame, and a revealing one, that it took this long for the mainstream media as a whole to take seriously this story. Kudos to Glenn Kessler for breaking the ice.
Related Reason TV content: Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson talks about the White House's Benghazi spin: