Halloween came early for Hillary Clinton yesterday. Over an interminable 11-hour stretch, she was taunted and prodded by a cast of characters that reminded me of a horror show the church next door used to put on every October. It was called “Hellbound” and it was designed to warn teenagers of the consequences of sinful and reckless behavior.
One of the scenarios in that show featured a young girl suspended from an oak tree on our property line. A cast of red-costumed demons surrounded her, hissing and cackling.
“You’re ugly,” they told her over and over. “You’re dumb. You have no friends. You might as well hang yourself.”
The message from Hillary’s “demons” was slightly different, but just as mean.
Their objective, it seemed, was to get her to admit that she was so incompetent and uncaring that she didn’t lift a finger to save the four Americans who were killed in the Benghazi terrorist attack. And that she was so heartless that she didn’t even bother to visit the wounded survivors.
Of course nothing could be farther from the truth, as Democrats on the committee kept pointing out. And as Hillary made abundantly clear with her calm, thoroughly documented rebuttals.
But the inquisitors would not be deterred. They were so relentless that a “Free Hillary” hatch tag emerged on Twitter during the hearing.
Their line of “questioning” got so outlandish that it would have been funny if it were not so depressing.
Alabama Republican Martha Roby, for example, wanted Hillary to confess that she had callously refused a request for extra security at the consulate, and that she neglected to check on her wounded staffers.
Roby, for no apparent reason, wanted to know whether Hillary was alone on the night of the attack. And Hillary burst out laughing at the possible implications of the question.
Roby growled that she did not “find it funny.” Her face livid, her forehead furrowed and her eyes like burning coals, Roby needed only a red costume to double for one of the “Hellbound” demons.
The other Republicans on the committee were equally extreme.
Mike Pompeo of Kansas tried to suggest some kind of conspiracy between Hillary’s “team” and Al Qaida operatives. He failed to back up his insinuation with details, however, and it became obvious to me that a “meeting” he cited as evidence never occurred.
Ohio’s Jim Jordan, among Hillary’s most persistent persecutors, zeroed in – time and again – on such peripheral events as Susan Rice’s appearance on a Sunday TV show. Rice had suggested the Benghazi attack was linked to widespread demonstrations against an internet video disparaging the prophet Mohamed. Jordan accused her of misrepresenting the attackers’ motivation so as to influence the 2012 presidential election. He blamed Hillary for instigating the “cover-up.”
“Where did the false narrative start?” Jordan asked accusingly. “It started with you, Madam Secretary.”
Hillary patiently – and repeatedly – explained that the attack occurred while demonstrations provoked by the video raged throughout the Middle East. Early intelligence understandably “conflated” the events, but further investigation revealed an Al Qaida affiliate was responsible for the Benghazi attack.
Among many other insinuations and accusations, Peter Roskam of Illinois blamed Hillary for everything that has gone wrong in Libya, accusing her of forcing a reluctant Obama administration to get involved and then trying to take political credit for it. He acted as if he expected her to break down and abjectly confess that he was right.
Through it all, Hillary maintained her poise. And in the end, she emerged not only unscathed but with her presidential campaign stronger than ever.
As AP reporters Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer concluded in their analysis today:
Hillary Rodham Clinton turned an 11-hour congressional grilling into a campaign call to action on foreign policy, using a make-or-break appearance before the Republican-led Benghazi committee to display a commanding, presidential presence under a barrage of questions.