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Opinion: A Benghazi victim’s mom echoes the Republican party line

Patricia Smith, mother of Benghazi victim Sean Smith, addresses the Republican National Convention on Monday.
(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty)

To no one’s surprise, Benghazi played a prominent role on the first night of the Republican National Convention, which was dedicated to the theme of “Make America Safe Again.” For Republicans, the September 2012 attack on a State Department outpost in Libya is the gift that keeps on giving.

This is the second presidential election in which Republicans have seized on the attack in which four Americans died, and for the same reason they fixated on it in 2012: It provides an opportunity to paint Democrats as mendacious about whether the attack was an act of terrorism or a product of outrage in the Muslim world over a YouTube video defaming the prophet Muhammad. (For Republicans, it has to be one or the other.)

This narrative was reinforced Monday night in a speech by Patricia Smith, whose son Sean was killed in the attack. Smith said, “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son,” and reiterated her claim that Clinton lied to her.

“In an email to her daughter shortly after the attack, Hillary Clinton blamed it on terrorism,” Smith said. “But when I saw Hillary Clinton at Sean’s coffin ceremony, just days later, she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.” (Again, the assumption is that the attack couldn’t be both an act of terrorism and related to protests in the Muslim world over the video.)

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Clinton disputes Smith’s account, and fact-checkers at PolitiFact have been unable to resolve the conflict.

“It is impossible to know with certainty what Clinton told these families in brief conversations at a private reception only three days after Benghazi,” PolitiFact concluded. “Some, but not all, family members who have spoken to the media said Clinton mentioned a video or protests in their meeting. Some said she didn’t mention a video. Clinton says she did not. If she did say something about the video, would it have been an intentional lie? It’s very possible that this is one of the many conflicting pieces of intelligence that the administration was working with at the time. There simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for . . . anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.”

But Smith didn’t just accuse Clinton of lying. In response to a sign in the audience, she extemporized: “That’s right, ‘Hillary for Prison.’ She deserves to be in stripes.” Was this an argument that Clinton lied before Congress in her testimony about Benghazi? Or a reference to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s private email server? Or does Smith know of some other Clinton malefaction? It was hard to tell.

Smith can perhaps be excused for substituting emotion for argumentation; she’s a grieving mother, after all, not a politician. It’s hard to be equally forgiving of the party that decided to use her as a prop.

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