The punditocracy is pulling out its collective hair, wanting to know why there have apparently been multiple layers of cover-ups in the evolving Benghazi story. An early scandal from the Clinton administration, the so-called “Travelgate” scandal,” may be instructive.
Recall that in the 1993 firings of employees at the White House Travel Office, a determination was made early on by the new president Bill Clinton and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, that the Travel Office workers, who served at the pleasure of the president, could be fired and that the Travel Office business, and the commissions that came with it, given to a cousin of President Clinton’s, Catherine Cornelius, who had a travel agency of her own.
But simply handing over government business to a relative would have been politically embarrassing, so the Clintons concocted a story whereby the Travel Office was rife with corruption and the workers there needed to be fired. An audit was conducted on Travel Office finances, and while the record-keeping at the office was found to have been pretty inadequate, there was no smoking gun of corruption or embezzlement. No matter. The FBI was pressured to make arrests, and the local US Attorney was charged with prosecuting the employees for corruption.
White House denials of any scheme, and leaks by those involved, led to a firestorm of media criticism. Most of the Travel Office employees were eventually given other government jobs or retired. A prosecution for corruption of the head of the Travel Office, Billy Dale, ended in an acquittal. Clinton’s cousin was removed as new head of the Travel Office. A later report written by Independent Counsel Robert Ray concluded that, while she did not make any knowingly-false statements under oath, First Lady Hillary Clinton had made a number of inaccurate statements concerning the firings and her role in them.
In retrospect, it is kind of funny that the Clintons would ever complain about corruption from anyone. Pot, meet Kettle. That kind of thing.
But the point is that the initial decision to replace government employees with the president’s cousin, so that she could make commissions from arranging White House travel, was a bad decision. Everything following that decision, the firings, the made-up charges of corruption, the federal prosecution, and the denials from the Clintons that later proven to be untrue, were an effort to distract people from the initial bad decision.
Fast forward to the fall of 2012, when the State Department repeatedly denied requests by officials at the American consulate in Benghazi for more security. This was the initial bad decision from which flowed all other obfuscations.
Who would make such a bad decision? In his recent congressional testimony, consulate security officer Eric Nordstrom blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pointing to a memo signed by Secretary Clinton, denying additional security.
What would lead Clinton to make such a bad decision? Remember that in the summer of 2008, when her presidential campaign had ended and the Russians invaded South Ossetia, Hillary Clinton was formulating what would later be her “reset” policy towards Russia. Such a policy assumed that whatever frostiness existed between the United States and Russia had been caused by American belligerence. If only the American side would initiate a fresh “reset,” then the Russians would be more accommodative to United States interests, like our policies concerning Iran’s nukes.
It may be difficult to grasp, but liberals, Hillary Clinton included, actually believe that bullies like Russia, can be appeased by weakness of others, hence the “reset” policy towards Russia, and the later denial of more security for the consulate at Benghazi. Clinton probably thought that a strong American military presence at the Benghazi consulate would be provocative.
Obviously this was a bad decision. On September 11, 2012, the American consulate was attacked and overrun by terrorists in a planned, coordinated attack. While under attack, officials at the consulate called for help, which could have made it from Italy in time to help. But if provided, this military help would have highlighted the earlier, bad decision to keep security there weak, so the request for military help during the attack was denied.
When the smoke had cleared, an American ambassador and three other Americans were dead. Anything besides a narrative that this attack was a spontaneous uprising because of an anti-Muslim You Tube video would have led people to question the initial, bad decision by the State Department to keep consulate security weak to begin with. The following week, UN Representative Susan Rice appeared on five television news shows to reiterate the story that the deaths were caused by a spontaneous uprising related to the video. A few days later, President Obama stated at a forum hosted by Univision, and again later at the United Nations, that the Benghazi attacks were provoked by the video.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton even filmed their own public service announcement, played in Pakistan, apologizing for a private American production of the anti-Muslim video and calling for calm. This PSA later became a self-fulfilling prophecy, when its reference to an anti-Muslim video caused riots in Pakistan that led to the deaths of 18, and scores of injured Pakistanis.
All these actions were taken to distract people from the initial, bad decision made by Secretary Clinton to keep consulate security in Benghazi weak. Apparently, when defending a bad decision by Hillary Clinton, anything goes. The standard operating procedure was apparent as far back as 1993.
This column was originally published in Front Page Magazine