It’s a scenario too weird and twisted even for one of Christopher Buckley’s satirical novels: Sid Blumenthal, a lifelong political hatchet-man considered too nasty and dishonest to work in the State Department by President Obama’s staff, ended up advising Hillary Clinton on Libya and shaping her public characterization of the Benghazi attack.
Representative Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), who heads up the special committee investigating the Benghazi attacks in the House, intends to subpoena Blumenthal for a private interview. When they became public in the wake of the scandal over Clinton’s private e-mail account earlier this year, Hillary Clinton characterized e-mails she’d received from Blumenthal when she was secretary of state — at least 25 detailed, lengthy memos — as merely “talking to my old friends.” But at the time they were sent, Clinton distributed the e-mails to her staff at Foggy Bottom — and it appears that one of Blumenthal’s memos, sent a day after the Benghazi attack, told her just what she wanted to hear about the attack’s connection to the supposed protest, quickly revealed to be nonexistent, over an anti-Islamic video.
A hacker known as “Guccifer” posted four memos to Clinton from Blumenthal that he had hacked from Blumenthal’s AOL account. One message in particular stands out. On September 12, 2012, one day after the Benghazi attack, Blumenthal e-mailed then–secretary of state Clinton:
During the afternoon of September 11, 2012 new interim President of Libya Mohammed Yussef el Magariaf spoke in private with senior advisors, including the members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss the attacks by demonstrators on U.S. missions in Tripoli and Benghazi. According to a sensitive source, Magariaf was shaken by the attacks, and gave permission to commanders on the ground for security forces to open fire over the heads of the crowds in an effort to break up the mobs attacking the missions.
During this session, a senior security officer told Magariaf that the attacks on that day were inspired by what many devout Libyan [sic] viewed as a sacrilegious internet video on the prophet Mohammed originating in America. They [sic] Libyan attacks were also inspired by and linked to an attack on the U.S. mission the same day. [emphasis added]
The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous. We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate.
Either the Libyan president was contradicting the conclusion of one of his senior security officers, or the comment described in the Blumenthal memo never occurred.
After the November elections, the Obama administration conceded that “there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.” The blame-the-video line didn’t originate with Blumenthal; the night of the attacks, the State Department issued a statement from Clinton declaring, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” (The attack was still ongoing at that hour.)
According to the Times, the State Department’s professional diplomats dismissed Blumenthal’s assessments as sketchy at best and often flat-out wrong:
Some of Mr. Blumenthal’s memos urged Mrs. Clinton to consider rumors that other American diplomats knew at the time to be false. Not infrequently, Mrs. Clinton’s subordinates replied to the memos with polite skepticism.
On September 12, Blumenthal was telling Hillary precisely what she wanted to hear, affirming the explanation she had given the night before.
On September 12, Blumenthal was telling Hillary precisely what she wanted to hear, affirming the explanation she had given the night before. On September 13, Hillary said at a reception marking Eid al-Fitr at the State Department, “Some seek to justify this behavior as a response to inflammatory, despicable material posted on the Internet. As I said earlier today, the United States rejects both the content and the message of that video.”
According to ProPublica, Blumenthal sent an e-mail on September 13 revising his earlier assessment, saying “Libyan security officials believed an Islamist radical group called the Ansa al Sharia brigade had prepared the attack a month in advance and ‘took advantage of the cover’ provided by the demonstrations against the video.” Again, both the Libyan government and U.S. staff on the ground in Benghazi said from the night of the attacks that there was no protest.
It’s worth recalling that Hillary Clinton wanted Blumenthal to have an official role at the State Department, but the Obama team deemed Blumenthal too dishonest and unethical for any administration role.
How did Blumenthal, one of the most notorious political attack dogs of the Clinton era, suddenly turn into an alleged Libya policy expert? What on earth would make a Beltway insider suddenly take an interest in the operative tribal loyalties in Tripoli and Benghazi?He apparently became of use to the Constellations Group, a New York firm that aims to “serve and advise treasured relationships to include individuals, corporation and charitable foundations on matters related to strategic communications, relationship connectivity, fundraising and board development.” According to the New York Times, the Constellations Group wanted to pursue business opportunities in Libya.
Blumenthal, who has no known background in intelligence, sent memos to Clinton with titles, “Comprehensive Intel Report on Libya.” Jeff Gerth and Sam Biddle of Gawker and ProPublica wrote that “the reports appear to have been gathered and prepared by Tyler Drumheller,” who served as the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief of clandestine operations for Europe from 2001 to 2005.
After retiring from the CIA, Drumheller became a major public critic of the Bush administration’s handling of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. One of the media voices touting his story was . . . Sid Blumenthal, who wrote, “two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller’s account to me.”
— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.