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What Did Hillary Tell Obama on 9/11?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

On Friday, a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here was the colloquy:

QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on. [Blah, blah for 222 words]. So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting. [Blah, blah for 76 words]. So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was –

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.

Later on Friday, the State Department spokesperson was asked why Clinton hadn’t answered, and provided this response:

As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates. [Emphasis added].

It is understandable that she’s not interested in focusing on herself, nor on the “senior people” she kept informed on the evening of September 11, as a major terrorist assault unfolded, monitored in real time on multiple open lines in her Washington command center, with a dead foreign service office and a missing ambassador by 6 p.m. Washington time and mortar attacks and more deaths coming later in the evening.

But to believe that her unwillingness to describe her actions reflected a self-effacing modus operandi may require the willing suspension of disbelief. It seems more likely she decided that, in view of Joe Biden’s malarkey on Thursday about an uninformed White House, this was not the time to describe what it seems any secretary of state would have done: inform the White House and keep it informed, in roughly the same real time as the State Department itself received the information, about an attack that was obviously not a demonstration about a video.