In Context: Hillary Clinton’s ‘What difference does it make’ comment.

In Context: Hillary Clinton’s ‘What difference does it make’ comment.

Plus my comments at the end.

 

Then-Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., greeted each other prior to a Senate committee hearing on Jan. 23, 2013 in this Reuters photo.
First in order to be fair let’s read the actual transcript that contains the infamous remark “What difference does it make?”  by Secretary Hillary Clinton.  Then I want to answer her question.

Based on a C-SPAN video of their six-minute exchange, here is a transcript of what Johnson and Clinton said during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Jan. 23, 2013:

Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Madam Secretary. I’d like to join my colleagues in thanking you for your service sincerely, and also appreciate the fact that you’re here testifying and glad that you’re looking in good health.

Clinton: Thank you.

Johnson: Were you fully aware in real time — and again, I realize how big your job is and everything is erupting in the Middle East at this time — were you fully aware of these 20 incidents that were reported in the ARB[State Department Accountability Review Board] in real time?

Clinton: I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention. They were part of our ongoing discussion about the deteriorating threat environment in eastern Libya. We certainly were very conscious of them. I was assured by our security professionals that repairs were under way, additional security upgrades had taken place.

Johnson: Thank you. Did you see personally the cable on — I believe it was August 12th — specifically asking for, basically, reinforcements for the security detail that was going to be evacuating or leaving in August? Did you see that personally?

Clinton: No, sir.

Johnson: OK. When you read the ARB, it strikes me as how certain the people were that the attacks started at 9:40 Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoke to — or have you ever spoken to — the returnees, the evacuees? Did you personally speak to those folks?

Clinton: I‘ve spoken to one of them, but I waited until after the ARB had done its investigation because I did not want there to be anybody raising any issue that I had spoken to anyone before the ARB conducted its investigation.

Johnson: How many people were evacuated from Libya?

Clinton: Well, the numbers are a little bit hard to pin down because of our other friends —

Johnson: Approximately?

Clinton: Approximately, 25 to 30.

Johnson: Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks very shortly afterwards?

Clinton: There was discussion going on afterwards, but once the investigation started, the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them, and so other than our people in Tripoli — which, I think you’re talking about Washington, right?

Johnson: The point I’m making is, a very simple phone call to these individuals, I think, would’ve ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. This attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time and it was an assault. I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault. But I’m going back to then-Ambassador [Susan] Rice five days later going on the Sunday shows and, what I would say, is purposefully misleading the American public. Why wasn’t that known? And again, I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing, but why weren’t we transparent to that point in time?

Clinton: Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened, and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries. As I said, I still have a DS [Diplomatic Security] agent at Walter Reed seriously injured — getting them into Frankfurt, Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to start talking to them. We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. And we did not — I think this is accurate, sir — I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC [Intelligence Community] talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows. And you know I just want to say that people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans. I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth. Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially? And I appreciate the —

Johnson: But, Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? That was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained?

Clinton: But, Senator, again—

Johnson: Within hours, if not days?

Clinton: Senator, you know, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one—

Johnson: I realize that’s a good excuse.

Clinton: Well, no, it’s the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because, even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown —

Johnson: No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that — an assault sprang out of that — and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.

Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Johnson: OK. Thank you, Madame Secretary.

With no due respect.  

Friends, without America there is no freedom in the world.  As an Evangelist I am constantly aware of this fact.  America deserves, and I believe that it is God’s wish for us to have honest leadership that can brush aside the politics of nations who hate us and act on behalf of our citizens.

What does it matter Secretary Clinton asks? It matters more than anything else.  We suspected terrorist activity.  We knew that the Embassy was not guarded adequately.  Four Americans are dead because for months warnings from the Embassy about terrorism were ignored and requests for security were denied.

Moreover, when the attacks they dreaded in fact took place, help was still denied. 

It is insane to say, “we want to make sure that it never happens again,” if the root cause is Mr. Obama and his mission to whip America into global subservience.  Now we have been attacked at home by terrorists who received more than $100,000 in federal aid to plot the Boston bombing!  We have gone from an unguarded embassy in Benghazi to an unguarded nation.  

This investigation into Benghazi will test the honesty of the American people in a way that is unprecedented .  We will see if there is a fatal double standard that can convict Nixon of Watergate and let Obama skate on Benghazi.  Remember, no one died in Watergate.

Diplomat: U.S. Special Forces told “you can’t go” to Benghazi during attacks.

Diplomat: U.S. Special Forces told “you can’t go” to Benghazi during attacks

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012.

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. / CBS NEWS

The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa.

Play VIDEO

U.S. diplomat contradicts White House on Benghazi

The account from Gregory Hicks is in stark contrast to assertions from the Obama administration, which insisted that nobody was ever told to stand down and that all available resources were utilized. Hicks gave private testimony to congressional investigators last month in advance of his upcoming appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound “when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’ And so they missed the flight … They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”

No assistance arrived from the U.S. military outside of Libya during the hours that Americans were under attack or trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles.

Hicks told congressional investigators that if the U.S. had quickly sent a military aircraft over Benghazi, it might have saved American lives. The U.S. Souda Bay Naval Base is an hour’s flight from Libya.

25 PHOTOS

U.S. consulate attack in Libya

“I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them,” Hicks testified. Two Americans died in the morning mortar attack.

Obama administration officials have insisted that no military resources could have made it in time. A White House official told CBS News that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies.”

Hicks is expected to be the first ground-level eyewitness to speak publicly in the nearly eight months since the terrorist attacks that killed Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. When Stevens went missing, Hicks became the Chief of Mission for the U.S. in Libya.

Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially indicated the attacks were not planned acts of terror, but an outgrowth of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic YouTube video. Unidentified government officials removed references to terrorism and al Qaeda from so-called “talking points” released to the public shortly after the attacks.

Below are the released excerpts from Hicks’ April interview with congressional investigators on the House Oversight Committee.

Q: But do you think, you know, if an F-15, if the military had allowed a jet to go fly over, that it might have prevented [the second attack]?

A: Yeah, and if we had gotten clearance from the Libyan military for an American plane to fly over Libyan airspace. The Libyans that I talked to and the Libyans and other Americans who were involved in the war have told me also that Libyan revolutionaries were very cognizant of the impact that American and NATO airpower had with respect to their victory. They are under no illusions that American and NATO airpower won that war for them. And so, in my personal opinion, a fast-mover flying over Benghazi at some point, you know, as soon as possible might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night.

Q : The theory being, the folks on the ground that are doing these — committing these terrorist attacks look up, see a heavy duty airplane above, and decide to hightail it?

A: I believe that if — I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.

******

Q: I just wanted to ask, you mentioned permission from the Libyans. Why is that important? What did you mean by that?

A: Well, it’s their country. And for an American military aircraft to fly over their country, we have to have permission from them to do so.

Q: So what would have been the risk of — do you think it would have been risky for us to send someone, do you think it would have been counterproductive for us to send a fighter pilot plane over Benghazi without that permission?

A: We would have certainly wanted to obtain that permission. I believe we would have gotten it if we had asked. I believe that the Libyans were hoping that we were going to come bail them out of this mess. And, you know, they were as surprised as we were that American — the military forces that did arrive only arrived on the evening of September 12. Yeah.

******

Q: So, at this point [at approximately 10:00 pm in Tripoli], you are talking to Washington, you are talking to your RSO Martinec, you are talking to RAO. Are you talking to the Defense Attache?

A: The Defense Attache is there, and he is immediately on the phone to Ministry of Defense and to chief of staff of the Libyan Armed Forces. He also notifies Joint Staff and AFRICOM. Our SOCAFRICA lead, Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, connects with SOCAFRICA in Stuttgart, as well. And, obviously, RAO is also connected back home.

Q: Was there ever any thought at that time of the night to have an F-16, you know, fly over?

A: I called — when we knew that — I talked with the Defense Attache, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, and I asked him, “Is there anything coming?” And he said that the nearest fighter planes were Aviano, that he had been told that it would take two to three hours to get them airborne, but that there were no tanker assets near enough to support a flight from Aviano.

******

A: And for the second time that night [Before 5:15 AM attack], I asked the Defense Attache, is there anything coming, is there anything out there to help our people from, you know, big military? And the answer, again, was the same as before.

Q: And what was that answer?

A: The answer was, it’s too far away, there are no tankers, there is nothing, there is nothing that could respond.

******

Q: So you had mentioned that the first team from Tripoli to Benghazi arrived at 1:15?

A: Right.

Q: And was there a second team that was organized? Could you tell us about the second team?

A: Right. The second team — the Defense Attache worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning — sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time — at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly.

Q: So what time did the second rescue team ??

A: Well, again, they flew — I think that flight took off sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m.

Q: At that point, you are the Chief of Mission?

A: Yeah, I’m Chief of Mission effective 3:00 a.m.