In 11 hours of testimony, former secretary of state and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answered questions in a long-awaited appearance before a House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks.
It’s the eighth Congressional investigation and the third time Clinton has testified on the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.
Here are five takeaways from the hearing that covered security in Benghazi, Clinton’s emails and longtime Clinton ally Sid Blumenthal:
1. Clinton in control. The last thing Clinton wanted or needed was another “What difference, at this point, does it make” moment when she lost her temper at a Senate Benghazi hearing more than two years ago. That soundbite made her look dismissive and aloof and is prime content for Republican attack ads.
Fast forward to Thursday, Clinton presented a much different demeanor. She appeared calm, compassionate, concerned and competent.
The former secretary of state had a lot riding on this hearing. She is running for president after all. If she came off defensive, uninterested or angry, her trustworthiness, which is already her biggest liability, would suffer even more.
In addition, she had an advantage before the hearing even began. Two Republican representatives and one former Republican staffer said the committee’s investigation was politically charged, putting the Republicans in the position of trying to disprove - or at least not prove - that claim.
2. Few revelations. In his opening statement, Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said his committee exists because the focus of the previous seven committees that investigated the attacks were “narrow in scope.” He said that his committee’s investigations are more comprehensive, including plans to interview a total of 70 people and review 50,000 “new” documents. New documents include nearly 8,000 emails sent by Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom Gowdy called a “prolific emailer.”
But little was gleaned from the element hours of testimony. Information that could produce new fodder, Stevens emails, have yet to be released to the public. While the new emails were mentioned, the content was not discussed, providing little insight.
After the hearing, even Gowdy told a gaggle of reporters that not much new was discovered.
“I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than previous testimonies,” he said.
One thing to note, however, is that Clinton was more explicit than she had been before in denying any responsibility for security requests in Benghazi as the security situation deteriorated there. She said Stevens asked “security professional experts” for security requests, not the State Department.
Clinton said she was responsible for a lot relating to Benghazi, “but I was not responsible for specific security requests,” she said.
Long-time Clinton friend Sid Blumenthal’s name and emails made repeat appearances during the hearing.3. Sid Blumenthal held the starring role.
In the thousands of pages of documents released by the State Department from Clinton’s personal email address, Blumenthal former adviser to both Hillary and President Bill Clinton, who was barred by the White House from working at the State Department for Clinton, was in constant contact with the secretary, often forwarding her “intelligence” from his sources both in the U.S. and overseas.
Republicans on the committee repeatedly asked Clinton why Blumenthal had her personal email address and why he emailed so often. Ambassador Stevens, they noted, did not have Clinton’s personal email.
Clinton was forced to respond to dozens of questions from numerous lawmakers about Blumenthal.
“Sid Blumenthal was not my adviser, official or unofficial,” regarding Libya, Clinton said. She also added that Stevens had numerous ways to get a hold of her “24-7.”
After so much attention was focused on Blumenthal, Democratic committee members called for a vote to release the transcripts of the behind-closed-doors testimony the committee held with Blumenthal earlier this year. The Republican majority on the committee voted to keep Blumenthal’s testimony confidential.
4. The biggest fireworks did not involve Clinton. Clinton never raised her voice or entered into a shouting match with Republican committee members. But that wasn’t the case for the Democrats on the committee. Ranking Member Elijah Cummings sparred with Gowdy multiple times, most notably just before the lunch break.
“I move we put into the record the entire transcript of Sidney Blumenthal,” Cumming said.
“We’re not going to take that up at a hearing,” Gowdy retorted.
“You asked for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!” Cummings exclaimed.
Clinton sat in silence, looking like she is capable of rising above the fray.
The tense exchange between the leading Republican and Democrat put on display the partisanship of the hearing and the committee as a whole, especially as Republicans would benefit from a politically crippled Clinton in the presidential campaign and it is in Democrats’ best self-interest to defend and protect her.
5. In the GOP attempt to look apolitical, Clinton won. Gowdy said in his opening statement that the hearing is not about Clinton but about the four Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi.
People say “this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not,” Gowdy said to Clinton.
But the line of questioning revolved around issues that only pertain to Clinton, attempting to feed the caricature Republicans have of Clinton: untrustworthy and self-serving. But Clinton refused to snatch the bait.
So the questions that ranged from why Ambassador Stevens didn’t have Clinton’s personal email address, fax number and home address to questions about the quality of her lawyers overseeing the release of her emails, Clinton answered the questions and gave the committee no red meat and many reasons for Democrats to rally behind her.