Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement that attributed the Benghazi attack to the now-infamous anti-Islam YouTube video in a statement on the day of the assault, even though she talked to a State Department official in Libya about the attack as it was unfolding.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Clinton said in a statement on Sept. 11, 2012. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”
Her statement suggests very strongly that the attackers cited the video as an assault. In fact, the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility almost immediately (before eventually withdrawing the claim).
Why did Clinton issue that statement if she talked to Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks, who told Congress that he briefed her on the attack in a 2 a.m. phone call as the assault and search for Ambassador Chris Stevens unfolded?
“She asked me what was going on and I briefed her on developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens,” Hicks said. “It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi, and I told her we would need to evacuate, and she said that was the right thing to do.”
Hicks also testified that he knew of the terrorists’ involvement — indeed, he knew that Stevens had been taken to a hospital controlled by Ansar al-Sharia.
One final thought: Clinton’s statement is very different from the initial talking points prepared by the CIA, which acknowledged the possibility that the YouTube video contributed to the attack but stated firmly that “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.” The final version of the talking points, which had the reference to terrorism purged at the direction of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, is in much greater agreement with Clinton’s statement.