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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll June 23, 2016

Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton 'slept' through Benghazi attack

Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton slept through the Benghazi attack, missing the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call.

In a June 22 speech, Trump said Clinton’s decisions as secretary of state "spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched. Among the victims was our late Ambassador Chris Stevens. I mean what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed. That’s right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at 3:00 in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping."

Trump has made this claim before. Was Clinton really asleep in her bed Sept. 11, 2012, while terrorists killed four Americans in the Libyan city of Benghazi? 

No. The, attack took place at about 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time, or 3:30 in the afternoon Washington time on a Tuesday. Clinton was at her State Department office.  

None of the numerous congressional investigations into the attacks have faulted Clinton for her actions as the attacks unfolded that day or said she could have done something different on Sept. 12 that would have saved lives.

For her part, Clinton has said in her memoir Hard Choices and in congressional testimony that she worked late into the night and did not sleep, though she did work from her Washington home for at least part of the night. We cannot independently confirm what she did that night, but we do know she released a public statement after 10 p.m. and emailed her daughter, Chelsea, after 11 p.m.

The military, not the State Department, was in charge of responding to the attacks as they unfolded. At that time, the military had a limited presence in North Africa, but congressional investigations concluded that it did the best it could on the night of the attack with the resources available.

"Given the military’s preparations on Sept. 11, 2012, majority members have not yet discerned any response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack," found the House Armed Services Committee in a 2014 report.

That report and another by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that no outside parties — such as the State Department or the White House — hindered the military nor the intelligence community in their immediate defensive response to the attacks as they unfolded.

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For a while after the attack, some Republican members of Congress claimed an official — some speculated Clinton  — told military or intelligence personnel to "stand down" while the attack occurred. The movie 13 Hours dramatizing the attacks perpetuates this rumor. But there is no evidence that anyone, much less Clinton, told personnel to "stand down," and at least two of the investigative reports conclude definitively that no one gave such an order.

It is generally understood that the State Department failed to adequately secure the Benghazi diplomatic compound, despite awareness of a deteriorating security situation in the region. These failings made the compound vulnerable to attack and unable to effectively defend itself.

What role Clinton played in addressing these security issues prior to the attack taking place is in dispute. Some Republicans have claimed that Clinton personally denied or ignored requests for security from diplomats in Benghazi, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. We and other fact-checkers have highlighted the fact there is no unequivocal proof that Clinton personally, deliberately, ignored security requests.

An internal State Department review concluded that the security failings resulted from bureaucratic confusion and made specific recommendations to prevent a repeat of the Benghazi attack.

Clinton has accepted ultimate responsibility for the attack, as the head of the State Department at the time, though she has said administrators below her were responsible for making specific security decisions.

Our ruling

Trump said the Benghazi victims were "left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed."

Clinton was not literally sleeping when the Benghazi attacks unfolded, as it was mid afternoon on a Tuesday in Washington. She worked late into the night, as is evidenced by an 11 p.m. email.

If we take Trump’s claim more broadly, that Clinton was inattentive throughout the hours in which the attacks occurred, none of the many congressional investigations into Benghazi have made that assertion.

We rate Trump’s claim False.

Our Sources

PolitiFact, "Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far," Oct. 12, 2015

PolitiFact, "Rand Paul attacks Hillary Clinton's response to Benghazi attack," April 12, 2015, "Trump on Clinton’s ‘3 a.m. Call,’" April 28, 2016

Simon and Schuster, Hard Choices, June 2014

Wall Street Journal, "CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya," Nov. 1, 2012

Wall Street Journal, "Emails Show Clinton Was Warned Over Security in Benghazi Ahead of Attack," May 22, 2015

Washington Post, "Fact-checking the Benghazi attacks," Oct. 21, 2016

Washington Post, "Issa’s absurd claim that Clinton’s ‘signature’ means she personally approved it," April 26, 2013

CNN, "Clinton: I'm responsible for diplomats' security," Oct. 16, 2012

State Department, Accountability Review Board Benghazi report, accessed June 23, 2016

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi," Jan. 15, 2014

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, "Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi," Dec. 30, 2012

House Republican Conference, interim progress report into Benghazi, April 23, 2013

House Select Committee on Intelligence, "Investigative Report on the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi," Nov. 21, 2014

House Armed Services Committee, "Majority Interim Report: Benghazi Investigation Update," February 2014

House Foreign Affairs Committee, "Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?" Feb. 7, 2014

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Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton 'slept' through Benghazi attack

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