As Hillary Clinton’s testimony to the House Select Committee on Benghazi stretched into its sixth hour, it was clear that everyone involved with the hearing was getting aggravated.
House Republicans were irritated that they weren’t finding the specific answers they were looking for. (At one point the former secretary of State even said, “I know that’s not the answer you want to hear. But those are the facts.”) Clinton seemed frustrated that she kept having to answer the same questions by the same testy people, and the Democrats on the committee were happy to talk about how they were unhappy that they were in the room at all.
“I think what all of us want to know — what did you do?” Representative Lynn Westmoreland asked Clinton. “What decisions did you make?” “I was responsible for quite a bit, Congressman,” she responded. “I was not responsible for specific security requests.” Representative Peter Roskam told her, “You were thinking about credit for you, isn’t that right? … Let me tell you what I think the Clinton Doctrine is. I think it’s where an opportunity is seized to turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Others wondered why Ambassador Chris Stevens — who died during the attack — had never emailed Clinton, as if an ambassador emailing the head of the State Department instead of their immediate superiors was a normal occurrence.
After hours and hours, few new facts about Benghazi came to light, and the committee unearthed nothing that provided definitive proof that Clinton committed unknown errors before or after the attack. There were no surprises, and Clinton had responded to the many queries in a voice so calm it might put a devoted NPR listener to sleep.
The hearing seems unlikely to change any opinions on Benghazi — those who agree with committee chair Trey Gowdy will likely come away from thinking that he won, and those who think Clinton is facing an unfair congressional prosecution will find evidence for their belief. The many voters who haven’t been paying attention to the Benghazi or private-email controversies are unlikely to find a reason to tune in.
Shortly before the Benghazi committee paused its hearing for lunch on Thursday, Hillary Clinton explained how heavily the Benghazi attacks weighed on her mind.
“I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” she said. “I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been racking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done. I will continue to speak out and do whatever I can from whatever position I’m in to honor the memory of those we lost and to work as hard as I know to try to create more understanding and cooperation between the State Department, our diplomats, our development professionals from USAID and the Congress, so that the Congress is a partner with us, as was the case in previous times.”
“I would like us to get back to those times,” she added. “I’m an optimist, Congressman. I’m hoping that that will be the outcome of this and every other effort so that we really do honor not only those we lost but all those that right now as we speak are serving in dangerous places representing the values and the interests of the American people.”
Three hours earlier, when the hearing began, Clinton said, “I’m here. Despite all the previous investigations, and all the talk about partisan agendas, I’m here to honor those we lost. My challenge to you, members of this committee, is the same challenge I put to myself. Let’s be worthy of the trust the American people have bestowed upon us.”
Right before the hearing adjourned for the first of several times, Gowdy and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings yelled at each other about the emails of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal. It felt like the hearing had briefly turned into a therapy session for all the frustrations each had about the committee: Gowdy’s worries that no one was taking it seriously, and Cummings’s complaint that it shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Clinton watched the back-and-forth with a smile — a rare departure from the array of unimpressed, bemused, or frustrated facial expressions she appeared to have prepared specifically for today. Those looking for confirmation of Clinton’s ability to convey all of her disapproving thoughts about a congressional committee in one stare — a gift she showcased in the last hearing on Benghazi in 2013 — have been rewarded with a veritable feast of photographs to unpack.
Gowdy defended the committee — which has faced heat from those who think it has done little but attack Clinton — several times during the hearing. “This is not a prosecution,” he said. “I’ve reached no conclusions.” At another point, he reiterated that — despite Clinton’s presence in the room — he had higher aims. “There are people — frankly in both parties — that have suggested that this investigation is about you. It is not.”
And for those looking for answers about why there were so few Clinton emails about Benghazi, the former secretary of State had one answer: “I did not do the vast majority of my work from email.” She added that she didn’t even have a computer in her office.
When Representative Jim Jordan said that Clinton had lied about Benghazi and had confused the public with her characterization of the attack, the presidential candidate responded, “I wrote a whole chapter about this in my book, Hard Choices, I’d be glad to send it to you.”
Around 5 p.m., reporters became concerned the hearing would never end.
But there were some good moments after the dinner break, like when Representative Martha Roby asked Clinton what she was up to on the night of September 11, 2012. “Who else was at your home, were you alone?” Roby asked. Yes, Clinton said. “The whole night?” Roby pressed. “Well, yes, the whole night,” Clinton said, breaking into a huge laugh.
“I don’t know why that’s funny,” Roby remarked, as everyone else in the room chuckled. “I’m sorry, a little note of levity at 7:15,” Clinton said.
After nine and a half hours, the committee turned its focus to Clinton’s email practices. Representative Jim Jordan aggressively accused Clinton of shifting her story on why she used a private email address. She reiterated that setting up the server was a mistake, but all of her work emails have now been turned over.
At 7:45 p.m., Representative Adam Smith complained that Republicans were trying to physically badger Clinton into making a gaffe. “It seems to me that really what the majority is doing is that they simply wish to wear you down and hopefully get you to say something that they can later use,” he said. About an hour later, a visibly tired Clinton had a coughing fit.
Just after 9 p.m., Chairman Gowdy ended the hearing, about 11 hours after it began.
As she was leaving, Yahoo’s Hunter Walker asked Clinton how she managed to endure so many hours of testimony.
So, the day wasn’t a total wash. Despite not having access to Clinton’s personal emails, we now know a little more about her yoga practice.
This post has been updated throughout.