AP FACT CHECK: Dubious claims about Benghazi, Clinton email

AP News
Posted: Oct 23, 2015 4:30 PM
AP FACT CHECK: Dubious claims about Benghazi, Clinton email

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a few facts got mangled as a showdown between Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Republican questioners turned into an 11-hour slog.

The sole witness in a congressional hearing, Clinton stuck with her insistence that using a personal email account as secretary of state was "allowed" by the government. Republicans gave a distorted picture of what diplomats do, and of their own history of investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

A look at some of the claims in the House hearing Thursday where lawmakers quizzed Clinton, now a Democratic presidential candidate:

CLINTON: About the emails she's turned over, she said: "You know, the State Department had between 90 and 95 percent of all the ones that were work-related. They were already on the system." Later, she added, "We learned that from the State Department."

THE FACTS: It's unclear where that figure comes from, but it doesn't appear that all those emails were saved at State.

Asked about Clinton's claim at Friday's press briefing, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "Ninety to 95 percent is something that her campaign has been using. I'm not aware of the source of that."

The Clinton campaign used that same figure in a news release in March, saying that 90 percent of her work-related email, as pulled from the private server she kept in her home, included an addressee with the department's official "state.gov" email address. Clinton repeated that assertion at the hearing to indicate those emails should have been captured and kept by the State Department.

But the State Department didn't have any centralized mechanism for collecting emails or for finding Clinton emails in other employees' government accounts. Clinton's lawyer and former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, acknowledged that in her own testimony recently before the Benghazi committee.

Mills said she would have anticipated that all such emails would be saved in the State system. "I've come to learn that that is not, obviously, the case," she said.


CLINTON: "I have said repeatedly that I take responsibility for my use of personal email. I've said it was a mistake. I've said that it was allowed, but it was not a good choice."

THE FACTS: Clinton's assertion that her actions were "allowed" is misleading. A better way to put it would be that at the time, it wasn't explicitly prohibited because it wasn't contemplated in the rules that federal officials would do all their emailing about public business outside official email channels. Federal rules did require agencies to preserve records.

In 2009, just eight months after Clinton became secretary of state, federal regulations on handling electronic records were updated to say agencies allowing workers to route official email outside the agency system must ensure that those records are preserved in their official email systems. The responsibility for doing that was assigned to the head of each federal agency.

When Clinton was secretary, a cable went out under her name directing employees to "avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts" even as she continued doing so.

In 2014, after Clinton left the government, President Barack Obama signed changes to the Federal Records Act that required any emails sent through personal addresses also be copied to official accounts.


CLINTON: "There was a good back and forth about security." — On communications between U.S. personnel in Libya and the State Department in Washington, about security needs at the Benghazi compound before the Sept. 11-12 attacks at the compound and a nearby CIA facility that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

THE FACTS: The independent review Clinton convened after the attacks deeply faulted State Department officials in Washington for poor communication and cooperation as diplomats in Libya pressed for more security and Benghazi grew more dangerous.

The Accountability Review Board cited a "lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at senior bureau levels" and "shortfalls in Washington coordination" contributing to a "woefully insufficient" security force at the compound.

The fewer than half-dozen armed diplomatic security personnel at the compound "were not well served by their leadership in Washington," the board said.

Clinton furthermore asserted that personnel in Benghazi were granted many of their requests for security equipment upgrades.

The review board, however, said "Washington showed a tendency to overemphasize the positive impact of physical security upgrades" to a "profoundly weak" system.

At the same time, Washington officials were "generally failing to meet Benghazi's repeated requests" to augment security personnel.


REP. TREY GOWDY: The Republican committee chairman ridiculed the idea of Stevens "having to stop and provide public messaging advice to your press shop" a week after a bomb blew a hole in the compound's wall in June 2012, without injuring anyone.

Gowdy referred to a request from the State Department's spokeswoman at the time, Victoria Nuland, who wrote, according to the chairman, "We'd like your advice about public messaging about the spate of violence in Libya over the last 10 days."

THE FACTS: An important part of any ambassador's job is to be the public face of U.S. policy in the host country and to help decide what the U.S. government should say publicly about that country.

State Department spokespeople receive guidance every day from ambassadors, assistant secretaries and other top officials about their areas of expertise, so that they can most accurately present U.S. policy to the public.


GOWDY: The chairman defended his lengthy probe by arguing that seven previous congressional investigations "were narrow in scope and either incapable or unwilling to access the facts and evidence necessary to answer all relevant questions."

THE FACTS: What Gowdy didn't mention: Five of those seven investigations were led and controlled by his fellow House Republicans, who were no pushovers. The other two congressional investigations, led by Senate Democrats, produced bipartisan reports.

While each panel investigated matters under its particular jurisdiction, the mandate was still broad, and underlying facts behind the attacks were explored repeatedly.

That's not to say information that emerged after these investigations has been comprehensively explored. Gowdy noted his panel demanded additional documents and was the first to get Clinton's email — kept on her personal server.


Associated Press writers Troy Thibodeaux, Ted Bridis, Stephen Braun and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.