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Clinton Confidante Sent Bad Intel on Qaddafi

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Only days before Muammar Qaddafi was killed in Libya, Hillary Clinton’s confidante Sidney Blumenthal wrote her a personal e-mail passing on erroneous intelligence that the Libyan dictator was hiding in Chad and about to be interviewed by journalist Seymour Hersh.

The previously undisclosed e-mail, which was given to me, was sent by Blumenthal to Clinton’s private e-mail account on Oct. 15, 2011, five days before Qaddafi was found hiding in a drainpipe near the Libyan city of Sirte and subsequently killed by opposition fighters. The e-mail was provided by Blumenthal and his lawyer James Cole to the House Select Committee on Benghazi in advance of Blumenthal’s closed deposition to the committee Wednesday. It is only one of the dozens of e-mails that Blumenthal gave the committee but that the State Department had not previously produced. 

The e-mail, marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” had the subject “Qaddafi’s location,” and was addressed, “For: Hillary, From: Sid.” It alleges that Hersh was approached by a former financial beneficiary of the Qaddafi regime about an exclusive interview with the fugitive Qaddafi.

“Hersh was told that Qaddafi is in Chad,” Blumenthal wrote. “He was also told that Qaddafi intends to wage endless war from his new location.”

Blumenthal noted that Qaddafi had helped install the president of Chad. He attributed the information to “a close friend of Hersh.”

Hersh told me today he had no idea what Blumenthal was talking about. “Say what? Interview Chad, no less... Actually the plan was to meet up with him on the first commercial space flight to Mars... It's only a few decades away, so I hear,” Hersh joked.

The e-mail was read back to Blumenthal during his nine-hour marathon deposition Wednesday, according to one lawmaker who was in the session. “Did it turn out to be true?” Blumenthal was asked. “I don’t know,” he responded, according to the lawmaker.

The e-mail adds to the impression that the intelligence reports that Blumenthal was sending to Clinton about the situation inside Libya – and that she was distributing for comment to top State Department officials – were based on often flimsy or outright erroneous information.

Many of the e-mails between Blumenthal and Clinton, some of which took the form of intelligence-style memos, were first disclosed in 2013 by a Romanian hacker known as Guccifer. Last year, the State Department sent about 850 pages of Benghazi-related e-mails to the committee. Many were published in May by The New York Times. The Times found that the e-mails often contained intelligence with an unclear source, that the reporting about the Benghazi attacks passed on by Blumenthal sometimes proved untrue, and that Clinton had shared sensitive information in the correspondence.

In late May, the State Department posted all of the Benghazi documents it said it found from its examination of the 55,000 pages of e-mails Clinton turned over from her private server. When Blumenthal produced files to the committee, he turned over 60 e-mails that the State Department never released, including this one.

Republicans on the committee are calling for all of the new e-mails to be released to the public. Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, defended the State Department and Clinton on Wednesday by saying that the document requests to each party were separate and different. The wording of the committee’s Dec. 2 request for Clinton’s communications stated that the committee wanted all documents “referring or relating to a.) Libya (including but not limited to Benghazi and Tripoli), and/or b) weapons located or found in, imported or brought into, and/or exported or removed from Libya.”

Inside the closed hearing, Blumenthal repeatedly refused to take any ownership of the information in the e-mails. He told the committee he was just passing on information to Clinton and had no political or business interest in the content or in her decisions regarding Libya. He claimed he received no pay for his work related to Libya, although he did admit that he was paid by both the Clinton Foundation and Media Matters, an advocacy group that has supported Clinton.

Inside the e-mails that have already been disclosed, Blumenthal passed on detailed intelligence compiled by former career CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was part of group seeking business in the post-Qaddafi Libya. Drumheller was working with Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton ally, and a mysterious funder known as “K,” who has subsequently been identified as Khalifa Sharif, a prominent Libyan businessman in Tripoli.

After his testimony, speaking to reporters, Blumenthal simply referred to Drumheller as a “respected” official and said he told Clinton she could use the information “as she sees fit.” Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy told reporters that if Blumenthal’s testimony was true, that was even more troubling because he was passing on information without any idea of its veracity.

“I am interested in the reliability of the information being presented to our top diplomat, and the reality is, having been in the room all day, he has absolutely no idea whether the information is credible or not,” Mr. Gowdy said.

With respect to his e-mail about Qaddafi’s whereabouts, that information doesn't look very credible. It’s unclear what Clinton or the State Department did with that email at the time. That will all be examined soon. Committee members told me the committee plans to depose Clinton as well as several of her aides, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin. The examination of Clinton’s unofficial sources on Libya is just beginning. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Josh Rogin at

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at