The nearly 300 emails from Hillary Clinton released by the State Department last week are shedding new light on the administration’s mission in Libya and its response to the deadly terrorist attacks in Benghazi.
The emails include details on the work of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who died in the Benghazi siege, and offer a glimpse into Clinton’s concerns that she might have falsely attributed the 2012 assault to backlash against an anti-Muslim video.
The communications between then-Secretary of State Clinton and her top aides will likely be a significant focus of the House Select Committee’s investigation into the attacks.
While key staffers could be deposed in the coming weeks, the committee still has not settled on a date for Clinton’s testimony. Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has said he wants to wait until State produces all the relevant documents before slating a hearing.
In the meantime, here’s how the Clinton emails fit in with what’s already known about the Sept. 11, 2012, assault.
March 27, 2011: Huma Abedin, an aide and confidante, emails Clinton about special envoy Stevens’s mission to Benghazi. She says the goal would be to “lay the groundwork for a stay of up to 30 days,” according to a State official, by meeting with the Transitional National Council (TNC), the group that was fighting to oust Moammar Gadhafi.
April 8, 2011: Clinton receives an update from her team on Stevens’s trip. He met with TNC officials, who have “frustration with the lack of coordination with NATO.” Clinton’s chief foreign policy aide, Jake Sullivan, forwards the chain to Clinton with his recommendation that they dispatch a NATO liaison to work with the rebels.
April 11, 2011: Abedin forwards Clinton an email with the subject “Stevens Update (Important),” which says Stevens is debating leaving the Libyan city because of the fighting between Gadhafi and the rebels. Abedin fears such a departure would signal the U.S. was “losing confidence in the TNC.”
April 24, 2011: With attacks on hotels increasing, Stevens tells State he will formally request more security at his hotel, although he still “feels comfortable.”
June 10, 2011: Sullivan emails Clinton to tell her there’s a “credible threat” against Stevens’s hotel and that officials from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security will evacuate U.S. personnel.
Aug. 22, 2011: Cheryl Mills, a longtime aide, forwards a draft of a memo by Sullivan that outlines Clinton’s role in the U.S. government’s work in Libya. Referring to Clinton as the “public face of the U.S. effort in Libya,” the memo runs down her official actions to help support the ouster of Gadhafi. That memo appears to be finalized in April 2012.
Sept. 11, 2012: After the initial news of the Benghazi attacks, Clinton receives an email from an aide at 10:41 p.m. saying then-national security adviser Tom Donilon “wants to speak with you secure … He would like to speak with you asap as he is leaving shortly.”
Less than an hour later, after confirming Stevens’s death with the Libyans, Clinton sends a message titled “Chris Smith” to aides asking when the department should make an announcement. Sean Smith, an agency employee, also died in the attacks.
Sept. 12, 2012, at 12:50 a.m.: Clinton confidant and former aide Sidney Blumenthal emails her a memo that blames the attack on a “what many devout Libyan viewed as a sacrilegious internet video on the prophet Mohammed originating in America.” He follows up with a new email that said Benghazi was a terrorist attack.
Sept. 12, 2012, at 7:29 a.m.: Clinton receives a copy of the statement that she will deliver on the Benghazi attacks. The remarks blame “heavily armed militants” and argue that the deaths should not distract from America’s relationship with Libya.
Sept. 12, 2012, at 10:43 am: President Obama condemns the attacks from the Rose Garden. “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,” he says.
Sept. 14 to 15, 2012: State Department, White House and intelligence officials work on talking points to give to lawmakers and others about the attacks. The final version of the talking points list says the attacks were “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex.” The emails also state, “extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Sept. 16, 2012: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, rather than Clinton, appears on all five Sunday news shows to deliver the administration’s message on Benghazi. The talking points later fuel questions from GOP lawmakers about whether Rice tried to mislead the American people about whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack.
Sept. 30, 2012: Sullivan seeks to assure Clinton that she hadn’t attributed the deadly assault to demonstrators.
“Attached is full compilation,” Sullivan writes while including copies of all Clinton’s public statements in the immediate wake of the attacks. “You never said spontaneous or characterized the motives, in fact you were careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method. The way you treated the video in the Libya context was to say that some sought to *justify* the attack on that basis.”
Nov. 18, 2012: Sullivan forwards Clinton a discussion about reports that Libyans have arrested Benghazi suspects. That emails chain includes information that the FBI redacted from the public documents.
Nov. 26, 2012: Mills chimes in on an email from the previous week that expressed concern within the State Department over how a series of talking points describing the attack was being received on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.
Dec. 20, 2012: Clinton skips a congressional hearing on the Benghazi attacks after suffering a concussion in a fall.
“I’m so sorry that I cannot be on the Hill today as we had long planned, but very grateful that you both will be. The State Department and I appreciate your leadership everyday,” the then-secretary writes to Bill Burns and Tom Nides, two State officials who agreed to appear in her stead.
“I’ll be nursing my cracked head and cheering you on as you ‘remain calm and carry on.’ ”
Dec. 24, 2012: In a year-end message to State Department personnel, Clinton largely focuses on Benghazi and the agency’s Accountability Review Board investigation into the siege.
“We need to learn from the tragedy in Benghazi and make every possible improvement — and we will,” Clinton writes.
“I am determined to leave the State Department and USAID stronger, safer and more secure than I found them. I owe that to each of you.
Clinton’s last day as secretary of State was Feb. 1, 2013.