WASHINGTON: US Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton spent all day Thursday last week in a congressional hearing over her handling of the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. However, it seemed the nationally televised spectacle was unlikely to hurt her White House bid.
Clinton was the secretary of state when the consulate was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. Four people were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
A congressional investigation has been ongoing over the last few years over how Clinton handled the attack and its aftermath. The investigation uncovered an email sent by Clinton the day after the attack to Egypt’s prime minister, in which Clinton wrote that it was clear the attack was a terrorist strike.
Yet over the following week, the Obama administration publicly put forth a narrative that the attack was the result of a protest that became violent, sparked by an anti-Islamic film made in the US.
Critics said Clinton and the Obama administration went with the narrative for political purposes. The 2012 presidential elections, in which President Barack Obama was campaigning for re-election, were less than two months away, and the administration did not want to be seen as having dropped the ball on terrorism.
Republican members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Thursday also grilled Clinton on why around 600 requests for more security at the Benghazi compound, in the year prior to the attack, seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Clinton’s defenders said the attacks are nothing more than Republican rancor in a bid to cast a negative shadow on the Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 race to the White House.
Whatever the case, experts said the hearings are unlikely to harm Clinton’s run for the presidency, contending that those who like Clinton will judge the situation in her favor.
In US elections, personality counts most, and it is a candidate’s ability to connect with voters that wins. Scandals can often be forgiven, if the public likes the candidate, experts noted.
“I think Secretary Clinton’s performance (at the hearings Thursday) was very reassuring to potential supporters,” Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said.
Combined with her adept performance in the recent Democratic debate and the decision by US Vice President Joe Biden not to seek the Democratic nomination, it was a very solid week for Clinton, he added.
“It has certainly restored a sense of inevitability to her campaign,” he said.
Mahaffee added that there is such antipathy for Clinton in the Republican base that it makes going after Hillary and her husband, former US President Bill Clinton, very attractive for energizing Republican voters and the base.
But on the other hand, for the wider American public, which is concerned about practical governance of the country, these scandals are just distractions that end up preventing the Republican Party from demonstrating its plan for the country, should a Republican get elected, he said.