The Cable

Not everyone is out to destroy Hillary Clinton all the time


In recent days, Foreign Policy's tally of the number of Hillary Clinton references during Wednesday's Benghazi hearing has become grist for politicians and reporters to extrapolate wider political truths about the House Oversight Committee investigation. In total, we counted 32 discussions of the former secretary of state in almost five hours of testimony. To many, this meant one thing: Republicans used the hearing to tarnish Clinton's leadership credentials -- a calculated early strike ahead of her anticipated bid for the presidency in 2016.

Here's Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on NBC's Meet the Press this morning:

My concern is when Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing, then the point of the hearing is to discredit the secretary of state, who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president.

Here's Reuters' Patricia Zengerle on Thursday night:

Clinton is clearly a major focus of Republicans' attempts to get to the heart of what they believe is a national security scandal.

Foreign Policy magazine counted 32 separate discussions mentioning Clinton during Wednesday's hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

Here's Politico's Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman on Thursday afternoon:

Republicans now seem willing to cast the State Department response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya as a referendum on Hillary Rodham Clinton's fitness to lead the country - and are abandoning a long-held hands-off-Hillary strategy rooted in her popularity with women of all races, ages and political stripes.

Clinton's name was invoked over and over during the hearing (a blogger for Foreign Policy counted 32 mentions) ...

Without a doubt, there's a strong incentive for Republicans to chip away at Clinton's record-high favorability ratings before the next presidential election and it would be naive to assume that many of the GOP questions were driven by altruistic intentions. But the number 32 is not evidence in and of itself of naked political opportunism.

For instance: Exactly half of the 32 references were made by Republican lawmakers. The other 16 originated from a combination of Democratic lawmakers and State Department witnesses.

While negative GOP remarks about Clinton outnumbered positive comments about her, the references to Clinton by Democrats -- some prompted by allegations made during the hearing, some not -- were universally favorable.

In this respect, a dispatch from the hearing by Roll Call Senior Editor David Drucker is instructive:

New York Democrat [Carolyn Maloney] opened her question time with a full throttled defense of Clinton, despite the fact that the former secretary of state's name had yet to arise in any meaningful way at that early point in the hearing. None of the witnesses had yet made comments that were particularly problematic for the possible 2016 presidential candidate. But Maloney's very deliberate remarks signaled that Democrats are sensitive to how the House GOP investigation into Benghazi might affect Clinton, regardless of its partisan overtones.

"I find it truly disturbing and very unfortunate that when Americans come under attack the first thing some did in this country was attack Americans, attack the military, attack the president, attack the State Department, attack the former senator from the great state of New York and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton," Maloney said, before going on to question the witnesses on the fact that the secretary of state's signature is included on all sorts of documents he or she never actually sees.

So let's not discount the reflexive Republican penchant to attack Clinton. But let's not give Democrats a pass on the reflexive penchant to defend her.


The Cable

Benghazi emails reveal CIA-State Department turf war: Administration officials

The newly-revealed Benghazi emails obtained by ABC News reflect a bureaucratic turf war between the CIA and the State Department, according to administration officials with access to the emails.

The controversy over the editing of the CIA's Benghazi talking points centers on emails in which State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made requests to remove references of the al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia and delete references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi ahead of the Sept. 11 attack. In the extensive back-and-forth -- the talking points were edited 12 times -- Nuland noted that the information "could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned."

Elaborating Friday on the exchange, an official speaking to The Cable says that the CIA's inclusion of "selectively noted Agency warnings" of terrorist threats in Benghazi ran the risk of igniting a media blame game that could serve to exonerate the CIA at the expense of the State Department.

"[Nuland] wanted to ensure interagency consistency of messaging," said the official. "[The CIA] selectively noted Agency warnings in a manner which might have led Congress to believe the State Department had ignored them. This appeared to encourage a blame game before the investigation was complete. She did not make changes to the points. Rather, she asked for higher level interagency review, which the White House agreed was necessary. She played no further role in the handling of these points."

Perhaps most controversial in the email trail posted by ABC is one in which Nuland says "my buildings leadership" is not satisfied with the talking points, though there is no evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or her top aides were part of the email exchanges. Ben Rhodes, the top White House communications advisor on the National Security Council, was on the chain - and he effectively ended the long back and forth over the talking points by saying there needed to be a White House meeting on them the next day, which there was (and about which not much is yet known.)

Meantime, a blame game between the CIA and the State Department is in fact what did later emerge following revelations that the two agencies had a shared security arrangement in Benghazi. As a November Wall Street Journal report explained, the two agencies had a "symbiotic" relationship in which the State Department consulate served as cover for CIA staff, meanwhile, "The State Department believed it had a formal agreement with the CIA to provide backup security."

Update:  A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the drafting of the talking points tells The Cable the CIA had no intention of making the State Department look bad, and was not engaged in a "turf battle."

"The changes don't reflect a turf battle," said the official. "They were attempts to find the appropriate level of detail for unclassified, preliminary talking points that could be used by members of Congress to address a fluid situation." 

Interestingly, the official went on to defend Nuland's request that references to al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia be erased from the CIA's original talking points. 

"Overall, the changes were made to address intelligence and legal issues," said the official. "First, the information about individuals linked to al-Qaeda was derived from classified sources.  Second, when early links are tenuous, it makes sense to be cautious before pointing fingers to avoid setting off a chain of circular and self-reinforcing assumptions and reporting.  Finally, it is important to take care not to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages."
 

You can read the full email trail here:

Benghazi Talking Points Timeline

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