The emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email account made public on Friday by the US State Department do not appear to contain any revelations that could badly damage Clinton’s bid for the presidency in 2016.
But the roughly 850 pages offer a glimpse into a turbulent chapter in U.S. foreign policy before and after the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
They also provide a window into Clinton’s interactions with administration officials, albeit a limited one since many of her own emails are relatively curt.
As Stevens moved to rebel-held Benghazi as special envoy in April 2011, Clinton was emailed details of his travel by ship from Malta. He had not been in Benghazi even a month, when on April 24, 2011, an email was forwarded to Clinton by her aide Huma Abedin expressing concern about the Benghazi security situation.
Then on June 10, 2011, came the news from Clinton’s senior aide Jake Sullivan that the Americans were evacuating: “There is credible threat info against the hotel that our team is using,” the email said. “DS (diplomatic security) going to evacuate our people to alt locations. Info suggested attack in next 24-48 hours. Will keep you posted.”
The emails also include discussion of how deeply Washington should get involved in supporting rebels seeking to depose Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. On April 1, 2011, Clinton asked a former top State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter, why she doubted that the Libyan rebels should be armed: “Why are you dubious?”
Slaughter replied that it was because “sending more arms into a society generally, particularly when they are as disorganized and fragmented as they are, will result in more violence against each other.”
“In a tribal society where conflicts have been repressed for so long, adding even more weapons does not make sense,” Slaughter said.
As of April 2012, Clinton’s staff thought they could tout her role in Libya as a diplomatic triumph. An April 4, 2012, email from Sullivan provides a lengthy chronology of “Secretary Clinton’s leadership on Libya,” stating: “HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in … securing the authorization, building the coalition and tightening the noose” around Gaddafi’s regime.
Some of the emails released Friday illustrate how fluidly Clinton and some aides, such as Huma Abedin, moved between serious discussions of State Department business and personal concerns. In an Oct. 29, 2012, message to Clinton, Abedin urged Clinton to call one of the State Department employees injured in the Benghazi attack and promised to convey later the substance of a confidential conversation she had “with my friend who was in Benghazi.”
But in the same message, Abedin told Clinton about “a possibility of three nice gowns and a lot of blouses and jackets,” adding, “I think we should find a day in (New York) sometime soon so you can try things on.”
After Stevens was killed, condolences flowed in, as well as emails flattering Clinton for her handling of the tragedy.
After Clinton appeared on television the day after the Benghazi attack, Liz Sherwood-Randall, a White House official, sent a message to her via Sullivan that described Clinton’s performance as “emphatic and unflinching and inspiring; she was wise and steady and strong. My 80-year-old mother called from LA to say, ‘She was like our rock of Gibraltar.’