Hillary Clinton endured 11 hours of questioning before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday, and when it was over, it was hard to say how much new light was shed on the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans while she was secretary of state.
For many, there was just one question when the hearing began at 10:00 a.m. ET: Was it a genuine effort to discover new information about the Benghazi attack, or was it a partisan effort designed to rough up the leading Democratic candidate for president?
In his opening remarks, the committee’s chairman, Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, insisted it was the former.
“There are people frankly in both parties who have insisted this investigation is about you,” he said to Clinton. “Let me assure you it is not. And let me assure you why it’s not. This investigation is about four people who were killed representing our country on foreign soil.”
Clinton struck a somber tone through most of the hearing.
“I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” she said. “I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been wracking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done.”
But the apolitical tone didn’t last long. Republicans on the committee pushed Clinton hard. And Democrats mostly complained that the committee’s work was expensive and unproductive.
Again and again, Republican committee members asked questions about Clinton’s emails — frequently about emails she got from Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton family friend and political operative with no official government role. But still, he emailed Hillary Clinton, a lot, about Libya.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., asked if Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack, had similar access. Did he have her email address, her cell phone number?
“Did he have your home address?” Pompeo asked.
“No, I don’t think any ambassador has ever asked me for that,” Clinton answered.
Pompeo: “Did he ever stop by your house?”
Clinton: “No, he did not, Congressman.”
Pompeo: “Mr. Blumenthal had each of those, and did each of those things. This man who provided you with so much information on Libya had access to you in ways that were very different than the access a very senior diplomat had.”
Clinton’s response: Stevens was in regular contact with her closest aides.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia, was among those who questioned Clinton about why she didn’t provide more security for the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. She said security decisions didn’t come to her; they were handled by the security professionals at the State Department.
“What did you do and what decisions did you make?” Westmoreland asked. “And you said everybody else was responsible for everything else. What were you responsible for?”
She listed a number of things, like picking Stevens to be the ambassador and setting policy for dealing with Libya after the fall of leader Moammar Gadhafi.
“I was responsible for quite a bit, Congressman,” she said. “I was not responsible for specific security requests. That is not something I was responsible for.”
There were also a lot of questions about the accuracy of statements and talking points from Clinton and other administration officials about an anti-Islamic video that sparked protests in the Arab world.
After the hearing concluded, at 9:00 p.m., Gowdy was asked the most important new things he had learned.
“Ahhh. Well, when you say new today — I mean we knew some of that already,” Gowdy said. “In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”
The committee’s investigation remains open.