Commentary

Clinton Confidant Revealed as Source of Benghazi Misinformation

Helle Dale
By Helle Dale | May 28, 2015 | 5:02 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton (AP Photo)

One of the mysteries surrounding the Benghazi scandal appears to have been solved with the release of the private emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The question was who came up with the false narrative of the cause of the attack on the U.S. Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11, 2012. The answer, according to emails obtained by The New York Times, is Sidney Blumenthal, former journalist and longtime confidante of the Clintons.

Both the Department of Defense and the State Department immediately identified terrorism as the cause of the attack on Benghazi. But it was Hillary Clinton, in remarks at the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue on Sept. 13 of that year, who first suggested the activity at the Benghazi consulate began as a demonstration over an anti-Islam YouTube video. And now compelling evidence in the email trail points to Blumenthal as the source of that narrative.

Blumenthal had been communicating extensively but privately with Clinton on the subject of Libya, where he had various sources of intelligence and was advising a group of potential investors. Blumenthal’s role is revealed in nearly 350 pages of emails, a sizable portion of the 850 reviewed by The New York Times.

On Sept. 12, Blumenthal wrote in a memo to Clinton that the attacks were by “demonstrators” who “were inspired by what many devout Libyans viewed as a sacrilegious Internet video on the prophet Mohammed originating in America.” Clinton forwarded Blumenthal’s account to others at State, and it became the foundation of the Obama administration’s narrative for the next two weeks.

This narrative formed the basis for, among other things, President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25; a video featuring Obama and Clinton speaking to Muslims and denouncing religious intolerance; and the appearance of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five national talk shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, during which she denounced the Benghazi attack as the “direct result” of a “heinous and offensive video.

But the real facts of the attack appear to have been communicated to the Obama administration, including Clinton, in timely fashion. On Sept. 13, even Blumenthal had written back to Clinton with a more comprehensive update. In this memo, Blumenthal stated members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda, had planned the attacks for a month and had used a nearby protest as cover.

This version conforms more closely to Defense Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request and also released last week. The House Select Committee to Investigate Benghazi wasted no time issuing a subpoena to Blumenthal, who has said he will comply.

Were it not for the chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and the committee’s diligence, Clinton’s private emails and the full facts of the Benghazi scandal might never be known.

Helle C. Dale is the Heritage Foundation's senior fellow in public diplomacy. Her work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries, as well as more traditional diplomacy.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.

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