Hillary Clinton got a Benghazi question at Wednesday night's Univision Democratic debate, and the audience booed.
Fusion's Jorge Ramos asked the former secretary of state about an email she sent to her daughter, Chelsea, on the night of the attacks in 2012. In it, she told Chelsea that an "Al Qaeda-like group" was responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. She also wrote of one of the individuals killed, "The Ambassador, whom I handpicked and a young communications officer on temporary duty [with] a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same tomorrow."
Ramos noted that some families of the victims claim that this proves that Clinton lied about what happened that night. To understand Clinton's answer, you first need to understand what the Benghazi controversy is about. So let's start with that.
On Sept. 11, 2012, the U.S. consulate and a C.I.A. annex in Benghazi, Libya, were attacked by militant Islamists. Four Americans were killed, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. Stevens’ death marked the first time in three decades that a U.S. ambassador had been murdered.
In the immediate aftermath, the Obama administration claimed that the attacks were a spontaneous response to an Islamophobic YouTube video that you might remember called “The Innocence of Muslims.” In a round of interviews on the various Sunday shows, Susan Rice, who was then Obama’s top candidate to replace then-Secretary of State Clinton, used the same talking points, which were based on a CIA assessment.
But as more information became available, the story changed slightly. The attacks “did not involve significant pre-planning,” according to Michael Morell, the acting C.I.A. director at the time, but a loosely affiliated group of Islamists had used the chaos in the city at the time to scale the walls and set fire to the consulate.
Since then, investigations and hearings have been held to determine wrongdoing. One such investigation determined that “systemic failures” at the State Department that occurred in its “senior levels” had failed to equip the consulate with enough security to protect against such an attack even though they had asked for it. The security in place was called "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
But in terms of immediate aid to Benghazi during the attack, a Senate Intelligence report concluded that, despite Republican claims that the Obama administration failed to send support that was ready and available, "there were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend the Temporary Mission Facility and its Annex."
Clinton's response reiterated most of this—that what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy, but that the administration did not lie about what happened that night.
"I feel a great deal of sympathy for the families of the four brave Americans that we lost at Benghazi," Clinton said. "And I certainly can't even imagine the grief that she has for losing her son, but she's wrong. She's absolutely wrong. I and everybody in the administration, all the people she named, the president, the vice president, Susan Rice, we were scrambling to get information that was changing literally by the hour. And when we had information, we made it public, but then sometimes we had to go back and say we have new information that contradicts it."
She then pointed to the hours of testimony she gave during a congressional hearing. "So I testified for 11 hours. Anybody who watched that and listened to it knows that I answered every question that I was asked," she continued. "And when it was over, the Republicans had to admit they didn't learn anything. Why? Because there had already been one independent investigation, there had been seven or eight congressional investigations, mostly led by Republicans who all reached the same conclusions, that there were lessons to be learned."
But none of this has stopped Republicans from using the tragedy at Benghazi as a political cudgel against Clinton, who some Republicans, like Donald Trump, have said belongs in prison over it.