Friday, March 6, 2015

New York Times Reporter Admits on Twitter: It's About Benghazi

Michael S. Schmidt, the New York Times reporter who broke the original Hillary Clinton email story on Monday evening (yes, the one that's already been dismantled) followed it up on Thursday with a piece entitled "Hillary Clinton Asks State Department to Vet Emails for Release". 

While you might get the impression from the mellow headline that there's not much to see here, the author made it clear on Twitter that this is not the case: 


And there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth...it's all about Benghazi.

Thank you for clearing that up, Michael.

Here's the thing though: There's nothing in his latest piece that factually establishes that the real, secret reason for the State Department's request for Hillary's emails was due to the tragedy that occurred in September 2012. He merely insinuates it with little evidence, which is something he was already good at.

The closest he gets to something firm is this paragraph:
But it was the review of Benghazi-related documents last summer that, within the State Department, set off the chain of events leading to the public disclosure this week of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email account, according to the current and former department officials.
And what is the Benghazi-related "chain of events" that Schmidt presents? This:

-State Department officials, including Secretary Kerry's chief of staff, sign off on the request for Hillary Clinton's emails.
-Starting last August, the State Department begins talking with Clinton's people about releasing her emails.
-In October, the Department asks all previous Secretaries since Madeleine Albright to turn over their government-related emails.
-In December, boxes containing around 50,000 printed pages of Clinton's emails are turned over.
-Department lawyers eventually determine that about 900 of these emails pertained to Benghazi and turn them over to the House Select Committee.

Did you notice that one of these things is not like the others? If so, you may be wondering what Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have to do with Benghazi. The answer, obviously, is nothing.

Schmidt's reasoning for lumping in this event with Benghazi seems to be based on timing and nothing else. And while the timing might be interesting, do you know what else was happening right then? That would be the passage of the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014, a bill introduced in early 2013, passed by the Senate in September 2014, and signed into law two months later by President Obama. It includes such sections as:
(Sec. 3) Provides that the transfer to the Archivist of records by a federal agency that have historical significance shall take place as soon as practicable but not later than 30 years after the creation or receipt of such records by an agency. Expands the authority of the Archivist with respect to the creation and preservation of audio and visual records.
and
(Sec. 9) Transfers responsibility for records management from the Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) to the Archivist. Requires the transfer of records from federal agencies to the National Archives in digital or electronic form to the greatest extent possible.
While it's unclear if this updated law is the exact reason for the State Department's request for emails going back to the late 1990s...it's certainly a more logical explanation than Benghazi. It also happens to be a law at the heart of this whole story in more ways than one, but it's not mentioned here...just as it was absent in Schmidt's piece from Monday that kicked this whole thing off. Convenient, eh?

But the most damaging evidence against Schmidt's shoddy insinuation of a Benghazi/State Department conspiracy comes from an unlikely source: the conclusion of his very own piece.
Since the disclosure that Mrs. Clinton used the private account, a spokeswoman for the State Department has described the request from Mrs. Clinton as part of the department’s larger efforts to improve its record-keeping. The spokeswoman, Marie Harf, was asked on Tuesday whether there was any connection between the requests from Congress and the decision to ask the former secretaries of state for emails from their personal accounts. 
“The letter actually went before we got the request from the select committee,” Ms. Harf said of the request to the former secretaries. “It went in October of 2014 — that was before we had gotten a request from the committee — as part of our records-maintenance upgrading and the process we go through.” 
Ms. Harf said that Mrs. Clinton was the only secretary of state who had sent back copies of emails.
Amazing.

In the end, not only does the "Benghazi chain of events" timeline fall apart, but it also turns out that Hillary Clinton is the only Secretary of State so far who's delivered on the Department's request...which sounds like something that should be applauded.

To his credit, Schmidt also includes a quote from a senior State Department official that flies directly in the face of his nonfactual assertion that it's about Benghazi:
"It would be oversimplified and inaccurate to draw the conclusion that the preservation of her records was done for one purpose.” 
But Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times just did it anyway.

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