Well, you heard it here first: As I warned back in August 2015, Hillary Clinton’s recklessly irresponsible mishandling of classified intelligence and destruction of thousands of government records was certain to undermine any government attempt to prosecute cases related to the Benghazi massacre and the Obama-administration policies — spearheaded by then-Secretary Clinton – that led up to it.
It has now happened. And there is still another shoe to drop – one the Obama Justice Department has conveniently managed to push beyond Election Day.
In that conflict, pursuant to Obama-administration policy that was spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and backed by senior Republicans on Capitol Hill, the United States switched sides: turning against the regime of Moammar Qaddafi (notwithstanding that he had been supported by the U.S. government as a key anti-terrorism ally), and backing Islamists championed by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ranks were threaded with al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists (i.e., the terrorists about whom Qaddafi had been providing our government with intelligence).
The administration dropped the criminal case on Tuesday, one day before a court-ordered deadline to disclose information about its efforts to arm Islamist rebels.
This defense is consistent with public reporting that the administration has tried to downplay for years. The murder of four American officials, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, by al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, was the culmination of a series of terrorist attacks on Western targets. Islamists had been empowered by Qaddafi’s overthrow and armed with the Obama administration’s encouragement. The New York Times, for example, reported less than a month after the Benghazi massacre that “the Obama administration gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants.”
Moreover, as I have previously recounted, Mr. Stevens, prior to becoming ambassador, was the administration’s liaison with the Libyan “rebels,” including their jihadist factions. One of his contacts, Abdelhakim Belhadj, had been a leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group before taking control of the Tripoli Military Council after Qaddafi was overthrown.
Belhadj coordinated a 400-ton weapons shipment from Benghazi to Syria through Turkey. The vessel carrying the weapons had docked in Turkey just five days before Stevens was killed. Although Benghazi was an extraordinarily dangerous place for Americans, the U.S. maintained State Department and CIA compounds there whose purposes have still not been explained. Despite the obvious danger on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Stevens was at the compound that night and met with Turkey’s consul general just before the fatal jihadist siege. Immediately after Obama was reelected in November 2012, the Times of London reported that he was beginning to arm the Syrian “rebels” directly; but the administration had plainly been encouraging others to arm them prior to that.
Turi was planning to raise these matters at his trial, which had been scheduled to commence on Election Day next month. Based on both the defense Turi proffered and the government’s obligations to disclose exculpatory evidence, the presiding judge last month ordered the administration to produce documents relevant to its arming of Libyan rebels.
The administration’s deadline to disclose this embarrassing information was Wednesday. By dropping the case on Tuesday, the Justice Department avoided making any disclosure.
Had the evidence been produced and the trial gone forward, voters would have been treated in the run-up to the election with reports highlighting the administration’s Libya policy, the Benghazi massacre, and the arming of jihadists — all profoundly embarrassing to Clinton and Obama. What’s more, Turi planned to use Clinton’s private e-mails – the substance of the ones that have been disclosed and speculation about the ones Clinton destroyed – to demonstrate the administration’s involvement in arming rebels.
As I’ve previously observed, this would not just have been a political nightmare for the Democratic nominee; there is also potential legal jeopardy. When testifying before a Senate committee in early 2013, Mrs. Clinton was grilled by Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) regarding her knowledge of whether the government had been involved in any way in transferring weapons out of Libya to other countries, including Turkey. After trying to deflect the question, Clinton stated under oath, “I don’t know. I don’t have any information on that.”
Had the administration not dropped the case against Turi, the court’s order would have required it to disclose any information it may have that could cast doubt on this testimony.
That, however, is not the end of the story.
As I related a little over a year ago, there is a second Libya-related case that could be severely damaged by Clinton’s e-mail scandal: the indictment against Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the only terrorist charged in the Benghazi massacre (notwithstanding that the attack involved scores of jihadists that Obama promised to “bring to justice” – many of whom have obviously been identified).
It is worth repeating the scenario I foreshadowed last year in explaining how Clinton’s e-mail scandal could sabotage the Khatallah prosecution. The jihadist’s lawyers are certain to contend that
he is being scapegoated for an al-Qaeda plot that was longer in the making [than the one the indictment, based on Obama’s Benghazi narrative, has alleged]. I’d expect [Khatallah] to elaborate that the government singled him out — even though many others were involved — because he was a known critic of American policy who had the misfortune of being in the vicinity of the “diplomatic facility” that night. His prosecution for an allegedly spontaneous attack, he will claim, is an effort to deflect attention from the State Department’s failure to upgrade security, from Obama’s complicity in arming jihadists long before the Benghazi attack, and from the administration’s decision to downplay the role of al-Qaeda (which is not even mentioned in the indictment) while pretending the attack was caused by a video. . . .
To press such a theory, Khatallah’s lawyer can be expected to argue that the government is hiding evidence that (a) the State Department knew of the continuing al-Qaeda threat but recklessly reduced security before September 11; (b) administration policies had empowered jihadists in Benghazi, who later carried out the attack for which Khatallah is being blamed; and (c) high administration officials, including Secretary Clinton and President Obama, concocted the video story during a tight presidential-election race to divert public attention from questions about who really carried out the Benghazi attack and what was really going on at the “diplomatic facility.”
Laying out this scenario, you can almost hear Khatallah’s lawyer saying, “Your Honor, we believe we are entitled to communications by the secretary of state with other officials. They would demonstrate the government’s knowledge of security lapses, the rising al-Qaeda threat, the fact that the September 11 operation was a terrorist attack, and the identities of attack participants whom the government has chosen not to charge while singling out my client. They would also show the connivance of top government officials in a scheme to convince the public this was a spontaneous attack caused by the video — a scheme that made it easy to frame my client because he happened to be on the scene that night, rather than the terrorist organization that planned it long before.”
Just as in the now-abandoned Turi case, the e-mails Clinton destroyed could be just as problematic for prosecutors as the ones that have been preserved – e-mails that show the administration was telling one Benghazi story to the public and a very different one in discussions that Clinton and other officials thought would never see the light of day. Naturally, Khatallah will allege that the missing Clinton e-mails would have proved his allegations — perhaps even that they were destroyed because they would have. What can the government possibly say in response to this? The FBI has already conceded that Clinton destroyed thousands of e-mails, and there is no doubt that a significant percentage of these involved State Department business.
Despite the fact that Khatallah was captured and then charged nearly two and a half years ago, the Obama Justice Department has managed to put his trial off until late September 2017 — over ten months after the 2016 election.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.