The Hillary Clinton Benghazi Emails, Explained

Hillary Clinton reacts to a question as she testifies on Capitol Hill on Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks / AP
May 26, 2015

You probably have some questions about emails Hillary Clinton decided to release on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, but were afraid to ask. Here's everything you need to know:



What’s up?

Not much. Did you hear about Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi emails?

Nope. I was visiting my grandmother at the retirement home.

Nice. How old is she?

Well, she’ll be 69 by the time the next president is sworn in.

Same as Hillary.

Oh. That’s cool, I guess.


So what’s the deal with the emails?

Thanks for asking. Last Friday, the State Department released some of the emails Hillary Clinton sent during her time as secretary of state.


Yeah, about 300 of them; more than 800 pages worth of documents.

That doesn’t seem like a lot.

It isn't. This is just the first round of emails scheduled to be released between now and January 2016. It’s a tiny fraction of the 30,000 she turned over to the State Department. This batch consists of those related to the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Wait, if she was using a government email address, why does she have to "turn over" her emails to the State Department?

She didn’t use a State Department email address. She used a private account hosted on a private server she kept in her Washington, D.C., mansion.

That sounds pretty sketchy.

It is. The State Department’s freedom of information officer has said using a private account to conduct government business was "not acceptable." Mike Morrell, former deputy director of the CIA, said Hillary’s decision to use a private server showed poor judgment, not least because foreign intelligence agencies were likely able to gain access to it.

Well, at least she didn't send or receive any classified information on that account. Right?

Funny you should ask. Hillary told reporters earlier this year that didn’t email any classified information on her account. But it turns out that some of the information she received was formally deemed classified on Friday, the same day the emails were released.



I think I heard something about Hillary deleting a bunch of her emails. Is that correct?

Yes. The emails handed over to the State Department have already been vetted by Hillary, her attorneys, her campaign aides, etc. She deleted the rest on the grounds that they were "personal" in nature.

Wait a minute. So there’s no point looking for a "smoking gun" in any of these emails being released to the public, right? If there was anything on that server likely to imperil her quest for power, she obviously deleted it.


And because there was no independent third party to review those emails, we’ll just have to take Hillary’s word that the "personal" emails she deleted were strictly personal. You know, about yoga classes and stuff. Right?


So, the best thing we can say about Hillary at this point is that she has yet to knowingly release incriminating information about herself, or to willingly disclose evidence of explicit corruption?

Pretty much.

That's a pretty low bar. Doesn't this set a terrible precedent for public official, and give them more incentive to conceal or destroy documents by proving that there are few, if any, practical consequences?


So, what's in the emails?

Glad you asked. Let’s start with Sidney Blumenthal. The emails show that Hillary was frequently corresponding with her "old friend" (and former Clinton administration aide) in the run-up to the Benghazi attacks. Blumenthal was essentially running a freelance intelligence operation in Libya and passing on information to Hillary, who would forward it to aides in the State Department and the White House. Turns out Blumenthal also had business associates who were hoping to cash in on the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and was receiving money from the Clinton Foundation and a number of other Clinton-allied groups at the time.

Sounds sketchy. Isn’t he the guy who kept promoting racially-tinged attacks against Barack Obama back in 2008?

That's him.

Did any of the emails warn Hillary about the deteriorating security situation in Libya prior to the Benghazi attacks?

Yes, they did. Beginning in April 2011, more than a year before the attacks, Hillary received emails warning of "credible threats" to U.S. assets in the country, and made mention of written requests for beefed-up security measures.

However, as the Washington Examiner’s Byron York points out, there are strikingly few references (in the pre-screened batch of emails Hillary chose to release) to the deteriorating security situation in the months preceding the Benghazi attacks, such as an August 2012 cable from Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attacks, warning that U.S. assets were increasingly vulnerable to a "coordinated attack."

Hours before the initial attack on the compound in Benghazi, which took place on the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, Hillary did not appear to express any concern about the security situation. Instead, she was emailing aides about a Bernard Henri-Levi film that had recently been featured at the Cannes Film Festival.

Has Hillary ever accepted any responsibility for the inadequate security in Benghazi?

Not really. In testimony before Congress, and in the pages of her failed memoir Hard Choices, Hillary insisted that she was unaware of the urgent requests for increased security in Benghazi.

Did Hillary ever mention Chris Stevens by name?

Sort of. In an email to aides, Hillary expressed concern about the death of "Chris Smith" and the important matter of when to publicly announce it. She presumably mixed up the names of Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department employee who was also killed in the attacks.

Did Hillary ever talk about her mysterious health scare?

She did. In one December 2012 email, Hillary joked about "nursing" a "cracked head."

What else do the emails tell us about Hillary?

Well, we know that she's a fan of NPR, and that she's surrounded by people who worship the ground she walks on.

What do you mean?

In September 2012, Hillary was forwarded an email conversation among aides and friends—titled "Andrew Sullivan with the Hillary love"—that discussed some favorable pieces by blogger Andrew Sullivan and Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan. In response to Eagan’s column, Roy Spence, one of Hillary’s top advertising strategists, wrote:

This is simply painfully honest on her part and a moment in time where Higher Purpose shines a bright light on Higher Ground…Higher Ground is where all great solutions and triumphs are found and scaled…HRC-once again is taking people there-whether they ever thought they ever want to go there or not…



That reminds me. Are there any weirdly sexual situations described in the emails?

Actually, yes. Here's how Hillary spokesman Philippe Reines described the scene of an October 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley in an email to Clinton aide Tom Nides:

Tom, she moved that yellow chair as close as it went. Knee to knee. Amazed she didn't try knee in between knee. And if that wasn't enough, she leaned forward. More like a pivot, as far as her torso could fold forward to minimize the space between their heads. Was like the dental hygienist rolling around the floor to get the best access to your mouth depending on what tooth she was trying to get access to I've never seen a Westerner invade her space like that And even the non Westerners I've seen do it based on cultural differences have been only briefly to greet, This went on like that for 51 minutes - unacceptable in any culture. I don't even think you see that behavior among any type of mammal.

The touching the leg and repeatedly calling her 'Hillary' was just gravy.

But it was wonderful. One of the best interviews I've ever witnessed. Wish it were on live tv.

According to an attached transcript of the interview, at one point, Langley leaned in and grabbed Hillary's knee, saying: "Oh Hillary, what do you eat? Drink? Dream about when you sleep?" Then she grabbed Hillary's leg again, while everyone present laughed "awkwardly." That's when Langley asked: "Hill, can I ride on your lap to the White House?"

I'm going to go throw up now.

Actually, that's exactly what Nides wrote in response to Reines. But in his case, it was because he was "laughing too hard."

What's Hillary Clinton up to these days?

Her campaign website is selling a pantsuit T-shirt.

Isn't there something sexist about Hillary's ironic appropriation of female business attire?


None of this matters, does it? She's going to be the next president, isn't she?

Yeah, probably.