Well, I didn’t see any evidence of “brain damage” as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered the lion’s den for her Fox News interview Tuesday night.
The GOP has been hankering to get Mrs. Clinton back in the hot seat ever since a panel of Senate Republicans failed to implicate her with any evidence that she was negligent in the run-up to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead.
After that misfire, exasperated Republican stalwarts, from Karl Rove to Lynne Cheney to a cadre of conservative talk radio hosts, have wanted to confront her on what she accomplished at the State Department; or whether she is too old to be president; or whether she forced Vanity Fair to run an interview with Monica Lewinsky; or how she could say she was broke after leaving the White House or that she failed to disclose the extent of her head injury after a fall.
The list of tedious non-scandal scandals goes on and on.
So much of this GOP fare, coming from what Mrs. Clinton once famously called the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” has to do with recent polling that shows that Republicans do not have a single candidate who can compete with her in the 2016 presidential election.
But Tuesday night, even with interviewers like Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren asking the tough questions in a challenging yet respectful format, they still can’t lay a glove on her.
Congratulations to Bret and Greta for an interview that lived up to the Fox motto of “fair, balanced and unafraid.” They did not throw softballs. But nor were they disrespectful to one of the most admired and accomplished women in America today.
Here is my instantaneous reaction to two of the most telling answers given by Secretary Clinton Tuesday night.
On Benghazi: Tuesday’s capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the terrorist who was allegedly behind the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, comes as the House Select Committee on Benghazi begins its work investigating the attack that left four Americans dead including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Hillary Clinton has made two famous statements about the attack that will be seared into the minds of voters, especially those who lean Republican.
When she testified before a Senate Committee in January of 2013, Clinton famously shot back at Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) “What difference does it make?” – whether it was a terrorist attack or a protest that turned violent or a combination of both.
More recently, in April of 2014, Clinton said Benghazi was her “biggest regret” from her time as Secretary of State.
In response to a question from Baier, Clinton said she was not in contact with former Undersecretary of State for Management Charlene Lamb or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on that evening. But she did she was in contact with CIA Director David Petraeus and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. She also said that she spoke to President Obama on the night of the attack while he was in the Oval Office.
“This was the fog of war. My own assessment careened from the video had something to do with it, the video had nothing to do with it…I was trying to make sense of it” Secretary Clinton said when Baier asked her about the initial reports of an Internet video sparking the protests.
She also noted that a video-inspired demonstration had taken place earlier in Cairo, Egypt and the initial assessments from the intelligence community supported that belief.
Both points are completely accurate.
“Information kept changing…information keeps coming at you from all directions. I took responsibility for being the head of the State Department at the time… As a leader, I have a responsibility to figure out what happened and put in place changes that will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She also noted that she feels responsible for all of her State Department employees who lost their lives during her tenure serving their country.
I doubt this will be enough for her fiercest conservative critics but she acquitted herself as well as she could in the eyes of independent swing voters who decide presidential elections.
On Iraq: With Islamic militants gaining control of the Northern Iraqi cities like Mosul and Tikrit and 275 U.S. troops going back to Iraq to try to resolve the situation, the next commander-in-chief will almost certainly have to make tough decisions with regard to Iraq and the region.
In her new memoir, "Hard Choices," Mrs. Clinton admits that she was wrong when she voted for the Iraq War as a New York Senator in 2003. Recall that this was the main fault line that separated her from the staunchly anti-Iraq war positions then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008.
It is unclear what Clinton would like to see done in response to the latest crisis in Iraq but here’s what she told a Canadian television interviewer:
"I would not support any action unless there was a very clear understanding of what Maliki would or wouldn't do, who was running the army and what third parties were going to be involved...I have made clear that I would not support any effort by the United States to back up his government unless the conditions that we have been asking for a number of years were finally met."
That tracks with her answer to Van Susteren's question where she placed the blame for the violence in Iraq squarely at the feet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, saying he “has failed as a leader.”
Asked about then-Senator Joe Biden’s 2008 suggestion that Iraq be divided in to three countries, Mrs. Clinton said it was a “creative idea at the time” but noted that “no entity, not the United States could have divided up the country.”
It sure sounded like a pre-emptive attack on her strongest potential rival for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Vice President Joe Biden, who just might see an opening to come at Mrs. Clinton from the left on Iraq – like Barack Obama did successfully in 2008.
So, there you have it. Mrs. Clinton is in fighting form. Though she still won’t yet say if she is running for president, she sure sounded like a presidential candidate.
Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and Special Report with Bret Baier. Williams joined the network as a contributor in 1997.