- - Sunday, May 10, 2015


“The Clintons” is the longest-running soap opera in American politics. Bill and Hillary have seemed to be immune from the accountability demanded of others. Perhaps they’re protected by scandal because scandal is what everyone expects from them. This defense will be put to the test when a judgment day, such as it may be, arrives the week of May 18 and she will be asked to answer questions from Congress about what happened at Benghazi, and her part in organizing the American response.

She will be asked to explain why she deleted thousands of official State Department emails as well, since critical information about Benghazi may have disappeared in her electronic purge. If she tells Congress, and the nation, that they’ll just have to take her word that everything was kosher, she will put her presidential aspirations at risk.

Mrs. Clinton has been the focus of congressional scrutiny because four Americans were killed when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. She was their boss, responsible for their safety. Congress has been trying to get answers since, and the best that she has provided is a remarkable outburst at a Senate hearing in 2013: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” This outburst, cold and insensitive, will be her legacy unless she comes up with something better.

Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, says the inquiry must be twofold. “Discussing Secretary Clinton’s exclusive use of private email with which to conduct public business is a necessary predicate for discussing the facts surrounding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi,” Mr. Gowdy told David Kendall, Mrs. Clinton’s attorney, in a letter on April 23. Some of the 30,000 email messages she says she deleted from her personal email server could shed needed light. She might not have violated the law, but she violated both good judgment and a State Department rule that such communications must be conducted on a U.S. government email server. It’s not the crime, as the nation learned in the Watergate inquiry four decades ago, it’s the cover-up.

The Gowdy committee must press, and press hard, for answers, but Mr. Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, must keep the proceedings focused and the questions crisp to avoid allowing the hearing to descend into a media circus. Mrs. Clinton, a lawyer by training, has a temper, but she will no doubt keep it under control and skillfully sidestep questions she wants to avoid. She agreed to only a single day of testimony.

She said after the Benghazi incident that she was responsible for what happened to her employees, but she tried to avoid the limelight afterward, sending Susan E. Rice, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, out with the story, which soon fell apart, that the Benghazi compound was attacked by a mob enraged by an obscure video attacking Islam. “Taking responsibility” doesn’t mean much without paying a penalty, like, for example, resignation.

Mrs. Clinton’s popularity has recently taken a dive. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that in a poll of voters only 25 percent think she is honest, down 10 points since last summer. This suggests that voters are losing patience with politicians who produce mostly excuses or who “lead” from behind. Mrs. Clinton has the opportunity — and the challenge — through her long-awaited and long-delayed testimony to Congress to demonstrate that she is a stand-up leader who can rise above her past, and her mistakes.

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