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JOAN VENNOCHI

Clinton deserves Christie-level scrutiny

Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Jan. 23.

AFP/Getty Images/file 2013

Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Jan. 23.

Time Magazine’scurrent cover depicts a tiny man hanging onto the heel of a shoe that’s emerging from a pant-suit wearing leg. “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” reads the accompanying text.

Maybe, if the cover also showed her tripping over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s just-released report on the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary of state.

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If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must answer for four days of traffic jams on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge, surely Clinton has the same obligation to address a deadly assault that the bipartisan committee found “preventable.”

Not only is it fair, given the mega-media attention paid to lane closures that were ordered up last September by aides and allies of the Republican governor. It’s necessary, given the importance of Clinton’s role as secretary of state to any quest to win the White House.

In 2008, a rival could still peck away at the credentials of Senator Clinton of New York by trying to portray her as a former first lady who traveled the world mostly as a president’s wife. Clinton’s tenure as President Obama’s secretary of state gave her foreign policy and national security gravitas and also strengthened her popularity at home and abroad.

She can’t enjoy the benefits of that entire package without addressing everything that happened on her State Department watch. Benghazi also raises those old questions about Clintonian candor or, more accurately, sometimes the lack of it.

In one of her final appearances as secretary of state, Clinton did take responsibility for events in Benghazi in September 2012. But that’s not enough now, given the report issued last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee — not if she’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Last January, when she went before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Clinton was pressed on what triggered the Sept. 11 attack. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she famously replied. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again. . . ”

Yet despite Clinton’s dismissive response, it does matter who attacked and why.

On one hand, the report says some of the individual attackers were affiliated with groups connected to Al Qaeda. But it also says the attack wasn’t highly coordinated. It was “opportunistic” and might have been put together following protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.

But it’s clear from the report that American intelligence agencies had warned about heightened security concerns in Benghazi and nothing was done to beef up protection.

“The committee found the attacks were preventable based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya . . . and given the known security shortfalls at the US Mission,” the committee concluded in a statement issued along with its report.

The report mentions Clinton by name only once, in the section written by Republicans. “Ultimately, however, the final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,” the Republicans wrote. “At the end of the day, she was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities. Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”

That single Clinton mention naturally plays into the hands of conservatives who tried, unsuccessfully, to use Benghazi to derail President Obama’s 2012 reelection bid. Of course, they will use it again to try to hobble a Clinton presidential run. But take the partisan glee out of it, and ordinary citizens are also left with legitimate concerns about the outcome in Benghazi.

The concerns aren’t new; they were raised a year ago, when an independent review of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi cited “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at the State Department. But they are certainly concerns worthy of consideration by the person who oversaw the State Department, especially if that person is a presidential candidate running on a platform of managerial competence and experience.

The public marches to its own beat when it comes to defining political culpability.

Polls show Christie is so far weathering the bridge scandal, although that could change with time and new revelations.

And so could the theory of Clinton as unstoppable. After all, she once was “inevitable.”

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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