Clinton and the Benghazi committee: it depends on what ‘unsolicited’ means

October 22, 2015

“What does the word unsolicited mean to you?” Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the Benghazi committee, asked Hillary Clinton during her testimony on Thursday.

Both Clinton and Gowdy are lawyers by training, a field that teaches you to pick your words carefully and pick apart the words of others with just as much attention.

Clinton knew where this was going: she has always maintained that the lengthy memoranda that her old friend Sidney Blumenthal was in the habit of emailing her, filled with purported intelligence on the disarray in Libya, were “unsolicited.”

“It means that I did not ask him to send me the information that he sent me, and as I have previously stated, some of it I found interesting, some of it I did not,” said the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential frontrunner.

Gowdy then read out a smattering of Clinton’s replies to Blumenthal’s emails, almost barking the phrase “question mark!” each time he reached one in Clinton’s messages.

“Another keeper, thanks and please keep them coming”; “Greetings from Kabul and thanks for keeping this stuff coming”; “Any other info about it?”; “What are you hearing now?”; “Got it, we’ll follow up tomorrow. Anything else to convey?”

Gowdy then asked her to “square” these apparent signs of encouragement with “the definition of unsolicited.” The point he was making was that he felt Clinton may have spent too much time listening to Blumenthal, while J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador who would end up killed in the 2012 attack, did not even have her email address.

Clinton declined to spend much time parsing her use of the word, noting only that there is nothing unusual in replying to a friend’s messages, and that both she and some of her colleagues with which she shared the emails sometimes found them interesting.

Gowdy seemed to think the point was made, and the two ex-lawyers moved on.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


Committee Chairman, U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) arrives before Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is set to testify before his House Select Committee on Benghazi about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


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This article leaves out important parts of this lengthy exchange. Clinton pointed out that she meant that she did not initially ask for information from Blumenthal, but noticed that some of the comments could be from another person in intelligence that she would not name. She forwarded the information to other State Department officials without comment; this made the information available to everyone who was trying to make important decisions. She also emphasized, when Dowdy would give her opportunity to speak without cutting her off, that email is NOT her primary method of communication. Most of her conversations with the Ambassador were verbal. Dowdy’s criticism assumed that the emails were important, he was wrong.

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