Univision anchor Jorge Ramos suggested that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton intentionally misled the public about the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks during the March 9 Univision/Washington Post Democratic debate by supposedly telling her family that the attack had been conducted by an "Al Qaeda-like group" while telling others that it was due to an anti-Islam video. Ramos' question echoed a baseless allegation originated by a Republican member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi that was repeatedly pushed by Fox News. As the Republican-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concluded, initial intelligence surrounding the attackers' identities and motives was "piecemeal" and "conflicting," leading to shifting descriptions by administration officials.
Univision's Jorge Ramos Asks Clinton If She Intentionally Misled The Public About The Cause of The Benghazi Attacks
Ramos: Families Claim "That You Lied To Them" About The Cause Of The Attacks. During the March 9 Univision/Washington Post Democratic presidential debate, co-moderator and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked Hillary Clinton if she lied to the families of the Benghazi victims because she "sent an email to [her] daughter Chelsea saying that an Al Qaeda-like group was responsible for" the attacks:
JORGE RAMOS (MODERATOR): I want to continue with the issue of trust. Secretary Clinton, on the night of the attacks in Benghazi, you sent an email to your daughter Chelsea saying that an "Al Qaeda-like group" was responsible for the killing of the Americans. However some of the families claim that you lied to them. Here's Pat Smith, the mother of the information officer Sean Smith. Let's listen.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
PATRICIA SMITH: Hillary, and Obama, and Panetta, and Biden, and Susan Rice all told me it was a video when they knew, they knew it was not the video. And they said that they would call me and let me know what the outcome was.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
RAMOS: Secretary Clinton, did you lie to them?
HILLARY CLINTON: You know look, I feel a great deal of sympathy for the families of the four brave Americans that we lost at Benghazi, and I certainly can't even imagine the grief that she has for losing her son. But she's wrong. She's absolutely wrong. I and everybody in the administration, all the people she named, the president, the vice president, Susan Rice, we were scrambling to get information that was changing literally by the hour. And when we had information, we made it public but then sometimes we had to go back and say we have new information that contradicts it. So I testified for eleven hours. Anybody who watched that and listened to it knows that I answered every question that I was asked and when it was over the Republicans had to admit they didn't learn anything. Why? Because there had already been one independent investigation, there had been seven or eight congressional investigations, mostly led by Republicans, who all reached the same conclusions: that there were lessons to learned. And this is not the first time we lost Americans in a terrorist attack. We lost 3,000 people on 9/11. We lost Americans serving in embassies in Tanzania and Kenya when my husband was president. We lost over 250 Americans both military and civilian when Ronald Reagan was president in Beirut. And at no other time of those tragedies were they politicized. Instead people said let's learn the lesson and save lives. And that's what I did.
RAMOS: What the families are saying is that you told your daughter Chelsea one thing and a different thing to them.
CLINTON: Well, Jorge, but that makes my point. At the time I emailed with my daughter, a terrorist group had taken credit for the attacks on our facility in Benghazi. Within 16, 18 hours, they rescinded taking credit. They did it all on social media. And the video did play a role. We have captured one of the lead terrorists and he admits it was both a terrorist attack and it was influenced by the video. This was fog of war. This was complicated. The most effective, comprehensive reports and studies demonstrate that. And look, as I said in the beginning, I deeply regret that we lost four Americans and I of course sympathize with members of the families who are still very much grieving and I wish that there could be an easy answer at the time but we learned a lot and the intelligence kept improving and we learned enough to say what we think happened at Benghazi. [CNN, Univision Democratic Presidential Debate, 3/9/16]
Ramos' Baseless Line Of Questioning Originated With A Benghazi Committee Myth Parroted By Fox News
During Her Benghazi Committee Testimony, Rep. Jim Jordan Accused Clinton Of Deliberately Starting A "False Narrative" That The Attacks Were Inspired By An Anti-Muslim Video. During Clinton's October 22 appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) accused Clinton of intentionally spreading a "false narrative" that the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were triggered by an anti-Muslim video posted on the Internet. According to Jordan, comments Clinton made about the attack being a response to that video contradicted her comment to her family on the night of the attack that Americans had been killed "by an Al Qaeda-like group." From the hearing:
JORDAN: Everything points to a terrorist attack. We just heard from Mr. Pompeo about the long history of terrorist incidents, terrorist violence in the country.
And yet five days later Susan Rice goes on five TV shows and she says this, "Benghazi was a spontaneous reaction as a consequence of a video," a statement we all know is false. But don't take my word for it. Here's what others have said.
"Rice was off the reservation," off the reservation on five networks, White House worried about the politics. Republicans didn't make those statements. They were made by the people who worked for you in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, the actual experts on Libya in the State Department.
So if there's no evidence for a video-inspired protest, then where did the false narrative start?
It started with you, Madam Secretary.
JORDAN: So here's what troubles me. Your experts knew the truth. Your spokesperson knew the truth. Greg Hicks knew the truth.
But what troubles me more is I think you knew the truth.
I want to show you a few things here. You're looking at an e- mail you sent to your family.
Here's what you said at 11:00 that night, approximately one hour after you told the American people it was a video, you say to your family, "Two officers were killed today in Benghazi by an Al Qaeda-like group."
You tell -- you tell the American people one thing, you tell your family an entirely different story. [Hearing Before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, 10/22/15]
Fox News Hyped The Allegation As "Explosive" Evidence That Clinton's Remarks Were A "Direct Contradiction" To Intelligence. In at least seven segments on October 22 and the morning of October 23, Fox News promoted Jordan's allegation as damning evidence that Clinton had deliberately lied about Benghazi. Fox hosts and commentators said Jordan's allegation was "explosive" "smoking gun" evidence that would "hurt" Clinton and "seals the case" that she deliberately deceived the public. [Media Matters, 10/25/15]
Intelligence Reports And Congressional Inquiries Have Already Debunked The Allegations, Noting Intelligence Changed Rapidly
House Intelligence Committee: Initial Intelligence Surrounding The Attackers' Identities And Motives Was "Piecemeal" And "Conflicting." The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Benghazi's investigation found that, in the wake of the attacks, "intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers," and that "much of the early intelligence was conflicting":
After reviewing hundreds of pages of raw intelligence, as well as open source information, it was clear that between the time when the attacks occurred and when the Administration, through Ambassador Susan Rice, appeared on the Sunday talk shows, intelligence analysts and policymakers received a stream of piecemeal intelligence regarding the identities/affiliations and motivations of the attackers, as well as the level of planning and/or coordination. Much of the early intelligence was conflicting, and two years later, intelligence gaps remain.
Various witnesses and senior military officials serving in the Obama Administration testified to this Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee that they knew from the moment the attacks began that the attacks were deliberate terrorist acts against U.S. interests. 125 No witness has reported believing at any point that the attacks were anything but terrorist acts.
Along those lines, in the Rose Garden on September 12, 2012, President Obama said that four "extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi," and said that: "[ n ]o acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."
However, it was not clear whether the terrorist attacks were committed by al-Qa'ida or by various groups of other bad actors, some of who may have been affiliated with al-Qa'ida. Early CIA, NCTC, DIA, and CJCS intelligence assessments on September 12th and 13th stated that members of AAS and various al-Qa'ida affiliates "likely," "probably," or "possibl[y]" participated in the attacks. [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 11/21/14]
Democratic Staff Report On Benghazi Committee Findings Concluded That Clinton's Conversation With Egyptian Prime Minister Included "Information Consistent With Reporting At The Time" As Intelligence "Chang[ed] Throughout The Week." As reported by the October 2015 Democratic staff report on the Benghazi attacks, intelligence about the cause of the attack "continued to change throughout the week," and Clinton "relayed information consistent with reporting at the time" to Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil during their September 12, 2012 conversation:
The evidence obtained by the Select Committee confirms previous accounts that the information being gathered in the aftermath of the attacks--and intelligence assessments of that information--continued to change throughout the week. For example, although initial reports claimed that Ansar al-Sharia was responsible for the attacks, the group later disavowed responsibility.
Later that afternoon, Secretary Clinton had a call with the Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil regarding the events in Cairo and Libya. The notes from that call indicate that the Secretary relayed information consistent with reporting at the time: "We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack--not a protest." The notes also indicate that she acknowledged that Ansar al-Sharia reportedly claimed responsibility for the attacks: "Your [sic] not kidding. Based on the information we saw today we believe the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al Qaeda." [Democratic Staff Report, Results Of Interviews Conducted By The House Select Committee On Benghazi, October 2015]
Clinton Has Repeatedly Said That Incomplete Intelligence Led Her To Go "Back And Forth On What Likely Happened, [And] Who Did It"
Clinton: "This Was The Fog Of War" And The Administration Relayed The Conclusion Of The Intelligence Community At The Time. During a June 17, 2014, interview on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Clinton told host Bret Baier that "this was the fog of war" and explained that the Obama administration told the public what it knew based on what the intelligence community thought at the time:
HILLARY CLINTON: This was the fog of war. You know, my own assessment careened from, the video had nothing to do with it -- it may have affected some people, it didn't affect other people. And I think the conclusion to draw, because we were not just monitoring what was happening in Benghazi once it began to unfold, but remember we had a very dangerous assault on our embassy in Cairo that same day, which was clearly linked to that video. So I was trying to make sense of it. And I think that the investigations that have been carried out basically conclude, we can't say that everybody was influenced and we can't say that everybody wasn't. But what the intelligence community said was spontaneous protest, and that is what, at the time, they thought. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/18/14]
In Her Recent Book, Clinton Explained That Her Views On The Attackers' Motivations Changed Several Times Throughout The Week. Clinton explained in her memoir, Hard Choices, that she "went back on forth on what likely happened, who did it, and what mix of factors -- like the video -- played a part." Describing the administration's initial search for answers amid incomplete information, Clinton wrote that "in the days that followed administration officials continued to tell the American people that we had incomplete information and were still looking for answers." As the Democratic Staff Report noted:
In her book, Secretary Clinton explained that she personally changed views several times that week about the possible motivations of the attackers, whether there was a protest, and whether the attacks were preplanned:
What about the attack in Benghazi? In the heat of the crisis we had no way of knowing for sure what combination of factors motivated the assault or whether and how long it had been planned. I was clear about this in my remarks the next morning, and in the days that followed administration officials continued to tell the American people that we had incomplete information and were still looking for answers. There were many theories-- but still little evidence. I myself went back and forth on what likely happened, who did it, and what mix of factors--like the video--played a part. But it was unquestionably inciting the region and triggering protests all over, so it would have been strange not to consider, as days of protests unfolded, that it might have had the same effect here, too. That's just common sense. Later investigation and reporting confirmed that the video was indeed a factor. All we knew at that time with complete certainty was that Americans had been killed and others were still in danger. [Democratic Staff Report, October 2015]