Republicans used the opening night of their nominating convention to sell itself as the national security party, and speakers tried to use the 2012 attack in Benghazi -- and Hillary Clinton ’s role in the U.S. response -- as a model of what not to do. But there were no new allegations made against her.
The theme of the first day of the Republican National Convention was a play on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump ’s "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan: “Make America safe again.” And those who addressed the attack, which left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead, made clear they believed Clinton did too little in response to the deadly strike.
Their accounts were emotional and detailed. They talked about a son killed there. They described firefights with attackers, while Clinton watched aerial footage from safety. But none presented evidence against her that several committees had not previously found as Trump seeks new lines of attack.
Pat Smith, whose son was killed in the attack on a U.S. compound there, told the Quicken Loans Arena audience that she blames Clinton “personally” for her son’s death.
“The last time I talked to Sean, the night before the terrorist attack, he told me, ‘Mom, I am going to die’,” Smith said. “All security had been pulled from the embassy, he explained. And when he asked why, he never received a response. Nobody listened. Nobody seemed to care."
[ Special Coverage: 2016 Republican National Convention ] “The very next day, he was murdered by radical Islamic terrorists,” she said, before saying Clinton, at her son’s funeral, lied to her.
“She looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible,” Smith said, anguish in her voice. “Since then, I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to explain to me the real reason why my son is dead. I’m still waiting. … How could she do this to me?!”
Smith, who expressed agreement with a attendees sign that read “Hillary for Prison,” went on to call Trump “everything Hillary Clinton is not,” saying he will “not hesitate to kill the terrorists who threaten American lives.
“He will make America stronger, not weaker. This entire campaign comes down to a single question,” she said of Trump. “If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency.”
A professionally produced video with a timeline of the Republicans’ allegations that Clinton and other Obama administration officials botched the response to the attack followed.
[ Latest From the Republican National Convention ] Clinton testified at an all day hearing before a House panel earlier this year about her role and the government’s decision-making before, during and after the attack. GOP members of that special committee failed to present overwhelming evidence that Clinton knowingly made decisions that led to the attack or delayed rescue attempts.
Clinton "failed" to keep the facility safe, said Mark Geist, a member of the security team that helped beat back the attack.
John Tiegen, also a member of that team, told the audience they were busy killing some of the attackers while “good old Hillary” was thousands of miles away safely watching footage from a drone aircraft.
Tiegen also expressed criticism that he did not receive a medal for his actions during the Benghazi fight. He and Geist laid out a very detailed account of their actions in 2012, talking about killing "terrorists" and tending to their own wounds. And they gave Trump a full-throated endorsement, saying he would not let a similar incident take place.
But neither presented any evidence against then-Secretary of State Clinton, who was responsible for security at the Benghazi diplomatic facilities.
As the duo wrapped their joint appearance in Cleveland, Clinton's campaign issued a statement defending her actions in 2012.
The campaign refuted allegations that she gave what's called a "stand down" order, meaning a directive that U.S. forces and security personnel not respond to what was going on. in the wake of the Benghazi attacks.
"This unfounded allegation has been widely debunked," the Clinton campaign said. "Multiple bipartisan investigations have concluded that no ‘stand down’ order was ever issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli."