For Hillary Clinton, November was a pretty good month--arguably the best of her presidential campaign.
It wasn't because she said or did anything particularly noteworthy. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton's numbers tend to rise when she stays out of the spotlight, and with public--and media--attention focused on the Paris terrorist attacks and the latest comments from Donald Trump, it was easy for her to react and make carefully-considered statements which were (predictably) praised by sympathetic reporters covering her latest run for the White House.
But December may not prove as rosy. Recent disclosures are breathing new life in a pair of long-standing scandals, creating new problems for Hillary and her campaign.
The first development casts the Benghazi debacle in a new light. Just-released e-mails indicate that the Defense Department was identifying military forces that could be sent to Libya, to assist American diplomats and security contractors at the besieged consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi. The message was sent to Mrs. Clinton's senior aides by Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Details from Fox News:
“I just tried you on the phone but you were all in with S [apparent
reference to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton],” reads the email,
from Panetta’s chief of staff Jeremy Bash. “After consulting with
General Dempsey, General Ham and the Joint Staff, we have identified the
forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.”
The email was sent out at 7:19 p.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2012, in the early
stages of the eight-hour siege that also claimed the lives of Foreign
Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two former Navy
SEALs, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, private CIA contractors who raced to
the aid of embattled State Department workers."
Clearly, the timing of Bash's e-mail is critical. It was sent less than two hours after President Obama received his initial briefing from Panetta and General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It suggests that both men began preparing military options immediately after their meeting and were offering them to senior administration officials in the early hours of the attack. There have long been questions about the lack of an American military response, despite the presence of U.S. forces in the region.
Portions of the e-mail were redacted, including those which listed available assets. But a Predator UAV was dispatched to Benghazi and provided video coverage of the battle--video that was transmitted to (and viewed) at the White House, the Pentagon, State Department and other command nodes. Beyond the drone, the U.S. military also had an F-16 fighter wing at Aviano AB, Italy; ships capable of launching cruise missiles in the Mediterranean, Marine security elements at Rota, Spain, and special forces troops that were training in the Balkans. It was later revealed that two SOF operators volunteered to accompany a "quick reaction force" that flew from Tripoli to Benghazi on the night of the attack and arrived in time to participate in the final, vicious firefight between security assets and Islamic terrorists.
Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in the attacks.
In the months following the 2012 disaster, Mr. Panetta said that "time and distance" prevented the military from deploying assets which might have blunted the terrorist strike, and (possibly) saved the lives of U.S. personnel who died that night. But the newly-obtained e-mail indicates that Pentagon planners had options for getting assets to the scene, but those plans were rejected.
According to FNC, Bash's e-mail was sent to four of Clinton's senior aides: then-deputy chief of staff Jacob Sullivan, Deputy
Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Deputy
Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides.
A spokesman for the Congressional Select Committee on Benghazi told Fox that the panel has an unredacted copy of the e-mail, along with the response from Mr. Sullivan. The committee hopes to release its final report on the matter in the coming months.
In the interim, the message raises new questions about that fateful night in September 2012, and U.S. government's response. Mr. Bash's e-mail to Clinton's staff suggests the Pentagon was looking to the State Department for coordination or approval of the military plans. At this point, no one outside the participants--or the Select Committee--knows how Clinton's team responded. However, given the late (and limited) response that unfolded, it seems doubtful that neither the Secretary nor her staff were clamoring for military intervention.
It also renews the debate about decision-making at the highest levels of American government--while U.S. diplomats and security contractors were under attack in Benghazi. President Obama's whereabouts on that evening remain unknown; after the initial briefing from Panetta and General Dempsey, he was essentially AWOL for the next 15 hours, until he boarded Air Force One the next morning for a campaign fund-raising event in Nevada.
Mrs. Clinton was traveling abroad when terrorists struck the consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi, but she had access to secure communications and was clearly aware of the developing situation. Did the Secretary of State tell military forces to "stand down" as the attack escalated, or was that decision made by someone else--whoever was calling the shots in the White House situation room? At best, the woman who wants to be the next President appears to be completely out of touch--as her personnel faced death. At worst, she was willfully negligent; ignoring requests for added security in the months leading up to the attack, and absent when the assault unfolded. Her actions (or lack thereof) provide another opportunity for GOP candidates in an election cycle dominated by national security issues.
Meanwhile, the inquiry into Hillary's "home brew" e-mail system is far from over, and it promises to create additional headaches for Mrs. Clinton. According to Ed Henry of Fox News, FBI Director James Comey has suggested that his agency has seized State Department computers, in addition to Mrs. Clinton's server. That would suggest the bureau is looking at specific individuals who may have transferred classified information to the former secretary's private network, or downloaded sensitive data from that system using department computers. It is also likely that investigators are matching that activity with sessions on Secret and Top Secret/SCI level networks, where the classified material originated.
For a mere mortal, such disclosures would start the countdown clock to indictment, but Mrs. Clinton may not be in jeopardy--at least, not yet. For starters, her friends in the MSM have essentially forgotten the e-mail scandal, and Donald Trump is sucking all the political oxygen out of the room. Secondly, the decision to prosecute still rests with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and there's a very good chance she will opt against charging Hillary, no matter how strong the FBI case proves to be.
Still, these disclosures prove that Benghazi and e-mail scandals are far from over. And just in time for primary season, too.