CNN: Hillary Clinton’s Inner Circle Was ‘Out of Touch’ With Public About Benghazi Testimony

• December 1, 2015 6:47 pm


CNN reporter Brianna Keilar said Tuesday that Hillary Clinton’s inner circle was "out of touch" with public perceptions of Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

Emails released by the State Department on Monday show that Clinton’s staff was "out of touch with the repercussions of some of her testimony" despite keeping close tabs on her political prospects, according to Keilar.

The emails show a secretary inundated with praise and insulated from criticism by a small circle of advocates, notably Clinton aide Philippe Reines.

In 2013 Reines reacted defensively to criticism that Clinton’s famous outburst about Benghazi ("…what difference, at this point, does it make?") would not go over well with the public.

"Give me a break. You do not look rattled. You looked real. There's a difference, a big one," Reines wrote to Clinton.

Another email sent by Clinton to daughter Chelsea Clinton reveals that the secretary knew within hours that the Benghazi attack was organized by an "Al Qaeda-like group."

While Clinton privately acknowledged the role that terrorist groups played in the attack, she told the public that the attack was a spontaneous outgrowth of a protest over an anti-Islam video.

The email exchange between Clinton and her daughter bolsters critics’ contention that top Democratic officials downplayed the threat of terrorism to protect Obama’s reelection bid.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Obama’s former top military intelligence official, now says that the administration ignored intelligence reports warning about the Islamic State to protect the president’s reelection bid.


Transcript below:

JAKE TAPPER: On to our politics lead now. The drip, drip, drip of Hillary Clinton's emails. The State Department just released another batch of work-related emails that Clinton sent from her private email server while Secretary of State. They include an email to Chelsea who used the pseudonym ‘Diane Reynolds’ that Republicans have seized on as evidence that Clinton mislead the public about the cause of the Benghazi attack. She publicly blamed an anti-Muslim video while privately emailing Chelsea that it was terrorism. Brianna Keilar read through the emails. No surprise, it shows that Clinton and her team were focused on her political image throughout her time at the State Department.

BRIANNA KEILAR: Yes. Very concerned and, at times, out of touch with the repercussions of some of her testimony. It's not surprising that Clinton's aides and friends were looking out for her. But it is fascinating to really pull back the curtain as they assured her she never firmly committed to this notion that the attack on Benghazi was born out of a protest over a video depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

KEILAR: The most memorable moment from Hillary Clinton's 2013 testimony on the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

(HILLARY CLINTON): Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?

KEILAR: Emails newly released by the State Department show denial among top Clinton aides that that controversial moment in her testimony was damaging. As congratulatory messages from Clinton supporters poured in, long-time confidante Mark Penn aired this concern: ‘I don't think the emotion in the hearing works to your advantage. Looks more like they rattled you on something no one outside the crazy right blamed you for anyway.’ But a top aide dismissed the assessment, emailing the Secretary, ‘give me a break. You do not look rattled. You looked real. There's a difference, a big one.’ Also in the batch, an email sent hours after the attack from Clinton to Diane Reynolds, a pseudonym used by her daughter Chelsea, telling her two officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Qaeda-like group. In a public Statement, that same night, Clinton raised the possibility that inflammatory material posted on the internet, a reference to video portraying Muslim Prophet Muhammad, was a precursor to the attack. Five days later, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice expanded on the inaccurate assessment when asked about reports that Libyan officials had arrested suspects in the attack.

(JAKE TAPPER): They're saying that some people involved were from outside the country, there might have been Al Qaeda ties. What's the latest information?

(SUSAN RICE): This began as a spontaneous, not premeditated, response to what had transpired in cairo.

KEILAR: Republicans have seized upon Clinton's emails to claim she was covering up the cause of the attack for political reasons, less than two months from President Obama's re-election.

(JIM JORDAN): You tell the people one thing, you tell your family an entirely different story. You can live with the protest about a video. That won't hurt you. But a terrorist attack will.

KEILAR: Clinton later explained the discrepancy as confusion during a chaotic time. ‘The fog of war’ is what she called it in October. Republicans say she was lying to protect the administration's narrative that terrorists were on the run right before the president's re-election.

TAPPER: That’s the second time this narrative of terrorists on the run has come up during this show.

Published under: Benghazi, CNN, Hillary Clinton