CLEVELAND ― Four years of simmering anger over the 2012 Benghazi attacks overflowed on the first night of Donald Trump’s Republican convention, with a remarkable outpouring of rage and grief from survivors and the mother of one victim.
Although nine separate investigations failed to find any wrongdoing by Trump’s soon-to-be Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, speakers spent more than a half-hour on the podium in Cleveland on Monday calling the former secretary of state a criminal.
It was led by the emotional speech of Pat Smith, whose son, Sean Smith, died with Ambassador Chris Stevens that night in Libya.
“The tragedy in Benghazi is not about America. I blame Hillary Clinton. I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son,” Smith said.
She alleged that Clinton lied to her face, telling her Sean Smith died because of a video that offended Muslims and sparked riots in other countries.
“Hillary Clinton is a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. I am a woman, a mother and a grandmother of two. How could she do this to me?” Smith said, bringing many in the audience to tears. “How could she do this to any American family? Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not.”
Smith said Clinton should be behind bars.
“If Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?” Smith said, apparently noticing one of the signs waving in the audience that declared, “Hillary Clinton for Prison.”
“She deserves to be in stripes,” Smith said to cheers.
Despite Smith’s heart-wrenching speech, fact-checkers have been unable to conclude that Clinton actually lied to her.
Smith was followed by an ad-like campaign video that also alleged Clinton was to blame, and then by two security officers who told their tale in the book and film “13 Hours.”
Mark Geist and John Tiegen’s story is a source of the claim that would-be rescuers were ordered to stand down. No investigation found that to be true, including Republican-led probes by the House Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.
Tiegen, who testified extensively in 2013, never mentioned the claim at the time. Even in the recent, partisan report delivered by the Select Committee on Benghazi, the most that Republicans on the panel were willing to conclude was that the CIA leader accused of issuing the stand-down order was actually only trying to coordinate a more robust response with partners in Benghazi and assets in the rest of the country.
But Tiegen and Geist went on for about 20 minutes, leaving the audience in the Quicken Loan Arena spellbound as they recounted their harrowing efforts to fight off the attackers in Benghazi.
“Benghazi is not about politics. It’s about opportunities. Opportunities taken when we defied stand down orders and opportunities squandered when Hillary Clinton failed to protect her people on the ground,” Tiegen said. “Had she done her job ... Ty [Woods], Glen [Doherty], Sean, and Ambassador Stevens would be alive today. Now we as Americans have the opportunity to elect someone who will make this country safe again.”
Republican-leaning survivors weren’t the only ones to speak out Monday. A contractor who called Stevens a friend, Bubaker Habib, took to Twitter to push back.
Stevens’ sister has also taken exception to the partisan nature of the accusations around Benghazi, saying Clinton should not be blamed.
Even the chairman of the Benghazi Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), declined to directly blame Clinton when asked repeatedly when he released his 800-page report last month.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Stevens’ widow has said Clinton should not be blamed. That sentiment was expressed by his sister.