WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the State Department is a man who, as a congressman, was one of the most aggressive peddlers of conspiracy theories about the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Mike Pompeo went further than many members of his own party in blaming Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, and President Barack Obama’s administration for the deaths of four Americans.
His outspokenness was a key reason he gained favor with Trump. In November 2016, when the president picked him to lead the CIA, The New York Times noted that some members of Trump’s team chose him because another potential contender, former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), was seen as too “soft” on the Benghazi issue.
On Tuesday, Trump nominated Pompeo to lead the State Department after ousting Rex Tillerson. A Tillerson spokesman said the secretary of state found out about his ouster after Trump tweeted about it Tuesday morning, although the White House insisted that Tillerson was made aware that his days were numbered on Friday.
In June 2016, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued a report finding no evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton or other members of the administration in the Benghazi attack. The inquiry came after eight other investigations had looked into the matter and reached a similar conclusion. It took more than two years and cost $7 million.
The bar for any Secretary of State is understandably extremely high and, when it comes to Pompeo, will be even higher due to the role he played in politicizing a real national tragedy. Dana Shell Smith, former ambassador to Qatar
Pompeo and a fellow conservative congressman, Jim Jordan of Ohio, issued an addendum to the report, however, that went beyond what their colleagues concluded.
The 2012 incident, they wrote, was “the story of a State Department seemingly more concerned with politics and Secretary Clinton’s legacy than with protecting its people in Benghazi.”
“And it is the story of an administration so focused on the next election that it lost sight of its duty to tell the American people the truth about what had happened that night,” they added in their report, which came out just a few months before the presidential election in which Clinton was running.
Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the Benghazi terrorist attacks. Republicans like Pompeo argued that top members of the Obama administration ignored warnings about the danger of the situation, refused to call in military help during the attack and then tried to cover up what happened. But the independent investigations into the matter concluded that while there were systemic failures, Clinton herself was not personally responsible or deliberately reckless.
Pompeo, however, said the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi was “worse in some ways” than Richard Nixon’s response to Watergate. He also pushed a conspiracy theory about how Clinton supposedly received her intelligence about the attack.
Dana Shell Smith, who served as ambassador to Qatar and was principal deputy assistant secretary of public affairs at the State Department during Benghazi, said Pompeo will have a tough road to climb at the State Department after his role in the Benghazi investigation.
“For all of the Republican fulminating about Benghazi, Rex Tillerson refused to meet one on one with his head of diplomatic security and did not nominate ambassadors, who are the officials ultimately responsible for the safety and security of our personnel overseas,” she said. “The bar for any secretary of State is understandably extremely high and, when it comes to Pompeo, will be even higher due to the role he played in politicizing a real national tragedy.”