Email #223: “answers they deserve”?

On July 18, 2016, one year ago today, Patricia Smith, the parent of one of four Americans killed in the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, spoke at the Republican National Convention, saying: “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.” The following month she and another parent of a victim filed a lawsuit against Secretary Clinton, holding her legally responsible due to her use of a private email server. The complaint alleged:

“It is highly probable, given Defendant Clinton’s history of reckless handling of classified information, that Defendant Clinton, as Secretary of State, sent and received information about Ambassador Christopher Stevens and thus the U.S. Department of State activities and covert operations that the deceased were a part of in Benghazi, Libya. This information was compromised from the second that it left Defendant Clinton’s private e-mail server and easily found its way to foreign powers.

“As a direct result of Defendant Clinton’s reckless handling of this classified, sensitive information, Islamic terrorists were able to obtain the whereabouts of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and thus the U.S. State Department and covert and other government operations in Benghazi, Libya and subsequently orchestrate, plan, and execute the now infamous September 11, 2012 attack. From the illegal use of Defendant Clinton’s private email server, it was reasonably foreseeable that Islamic terrorists would premeditatedly kill Plaintiffs’ sons.”

The complaint also accused Clinton of making “false and defamatory statements negligently, recklessly, purposefully, and/or intentionally with actual malice” when, as Smith said at the Convention, “she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.”

This is heart-breaking. These deaths were tragic, and Smith is justified in believing they were also avoidable. The Obama administration misread the situation in Libya and did not protect the embassy. Even one of the victims, Embassador Stevens, twice declined security assistance from the senior U.S. military official in the region just a month before the attack. The Obama administration also vacillated in their public statements about the nature of the attack, initially believing it was triggered by the protest of an anti-Muslim film before realizing and then only later acknowledging their error.

It is fair for Patricia Smith to accuse Secretary Clinton of incompetence and deceptiveness. But her lawsuit is even more heart-breaking because it goes so much further. Her belief about Secretary Clinton’s email server is based entirely on conjecture. Though there is nothing to suggest that the terrorists who attacked the embassy did so after hacking Clinton’s emails, because it is not impossible, Smith believes that it’s true.

A judge dismissed the suit in May on the most basic grounds: Secretary Clinton was acting in an official capacity and so cannot be held liable for wrongful deaths in a civil suit. While this conclusion seems inevitable, Smith was clearly advised otherwise. And her lawyers say they will appeal the dismissal, further worsening this tragic situation.

My heart goes out to Smith for two reasons. First and foremost, for her unspeakable loss as a parent. As the father of two children, I can vividly imagine the horror of her experience. But secondly, I am further horrified by how the GOP used her as a political pawn to attack Secretary Clinton during the presidential campaign. Had someone other than Clinton been nominated by the Democratic party, the additional suffering caused by her continuing lawsuit would never have happened. She has been lied to, and in her grief, she has believed those lies.

You said in 2013 when the House released its report on Benghazi:

“As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I will continue to investigate this terrorist attack and provide the American people and the families of the victims with the answers they deserve and demand that the Administration hold accountable with appropriate disciplinary actions those who made these poor and costly decisions.”

As you determined yourself, such “appropriate disciplinary actions” do not include finding Secretary Clinton guilty of wrongful deaths. You know this. You are a lawyer. And yet despite your promise to provide the families of the victims with the truth they deserve, you did not counsel Patricia Smith against her lawsuit.  That makes you complicit in her further suffering.

As one of the most dogged critic of Secretary Clinton, your opinion carries tremendous weight. Though the public should also be told that the grounds of this lawsuit are heartbreakingly meaningless, I ask only that you contact Ms. Smith privately and counsel her not to pursue her appeal.

Email #191: “50-50”?

I read Wednesday that the independent counsel has been investigating whether the President committed obstruction of justice by interfering with the FBI. This of course contradicts the President’s repeated insistence that he is not under investigation. Before this news, prediction markets were giving President Trump only a 40% chance of completing his full term. PredictIt co-founder John Aristotle Phillips said: “It’s almost 50-50 that he won’t be in office by the end of 2018.”

Do you believe the impeachment process could move that quickly?

For President Nixon and the Watergate scandal, a Senate Select Committee was created in February 1973, began hearings in May, and issued its report in late June. The House didn’t pass its impeachment inquiry until February 1974, after which the House Judiciary Committee held its own investigation and hearings, culminating with the House impeaching President Nixon in July. He resigned in August, before the Senate began a trial.

For President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, independent counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed in October 1997 and released his report in September 1998. The House Judiciary Committee began considering impeachment the same month. The House passed an impeachment inquiry in October and impeached President Clinton in December. The House process was slowed by November mid-term elections and Speaker Gingrich’s resignation after Democrats gained five seats despite predictions that Republicans would gain as many as thirty. The Senate cleared the President on all counts in January.

So for Nixon, the process, from report release to his leaving office, took roughly thirteen months, after four months for the initial investigation. For Clinton, the process, from report release to acquittal, took sixteen months, after eleven months for the initial investigation. Those total seventeen and twenty-seven months, and so average a little under two years. That gives those betting on President Trump leaving office by the end of 2018 reason to be hopeful.

But when did the clock start? The FBI confirmed in March that it was already investigating possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump administration, but not of the President himself. Four Congressional committees are conducting similar investigations, but again not of the President. However, all five investigations could and almost certainly will include details about the President, and their scopes could expand. Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Whitewater real estate deals, but ended up deposing President about a sexual affair. There’s also no knowing when any of those investigations will be completed and their reports released.

So given the historical precedents, 50-50 sounds like pretty reasonable odds. How confident are you that the President will still be in office after the 2018 mid-terms? Since you will have completed your third term as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and your successor will take over in January 2019, do you predict you’ll be handing over the impeachment process too?