In Ben Carson’s playbook, a good defense is a good offense.
Media reports have raised questions about Carson’s account of being violent as a child and whether he was offered a West Point scholarship. So the retired neurosurgeon got a question on his biography at the Nov. 10 debate.
"Are you worried your campaign -- which you've always said, sir, is bigger than you -- is now being hurt by you?" asked Fox Business Network debate moderator Neil Cavuto.
Carson switched the topic to call Hillary Clinton a liar for her comments as secretary of state about the attack in Benghazi.
"When I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video. … Where I came from, they call that a lie."
We decided to fact-check Carson’s account of conflicting statements by Clinton and whether that shows she was lying. Carson has a point that Clinton privately told a few people the attacks were the work of terrorists. But he’s not accurate when he says she told "everybody else" that it was a video. Her public remarks were much more measured than Carson suggests.
What Clinton said about Benghazi
We’ve based our fact-checking of the Benghazi attacks on news accounts, government press releases and congressional investigations, as well as information we’ve received from the Carson and Clinton campaigns.
As we have noted before, there was initial confusion about the cause of the attack at the time it happened. One key question was whether Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice purposefully downplayed the idea that it was a terrorist attack when she spoke on five Sunday talk shows days after the incident, instead suggesting that it a spontaneous reaction to a movie that mocked Islam. That movie had drawn protests around the Middle East at about the same time that the Benghazi attack happened.
Here are Clinton’s key comments:
Sept. 11, 2012: The attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound begins at 3:40 p.m. ET (9:40 p.m. in Benghazi); an attack on a CIA mission annex begins at 6 p.m. ET. Four Americans die in the attacks.
Sept. 11, 2012: During a phone call with Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf around 8 p.m. ET, Clinton said she understood Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaida-affiliated group, claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to notes from that conversation documented in a State Department email. However, Ansar al-Sharia soon retracted the claim.
Clinton issued a public statement at 10:08 p.m. that didn’t indicate a cause for the attack but said, "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. ..."
At 11:12 p.m., Clinton sent an email to her daughter Chelsea saying: "Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al Queda-like (sic) group. The ambassador, whom I hand picked and a young communications officer on temporary duty w a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same."
Sept. 12, 2012: In a call with Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, Clinton said, "We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest. Based on the information we saw today we believe the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al-Qaeda."
Sept. 13, 2012: In public remarks with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani, she condemned the video, saying, "I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries.. ...."
Clinton did not say, though, that the video sparked the attack in Benghazi.
Sept. 14, 2012: At a ceremony, Clinton said, "This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with. The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob."
So she mentions Benghazi in one sentence and then more broadly "American embassies" in the next sentence.
Sept. 20, 2012: During a press conference Clinton talked about "protests in several countries around the world" and then said, "And as I have said the video that sparked these protests is disgusting and reprehensible, and the United States government, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with it."
Clinton didn’t specify Benghazi in these comments.
Sept. 21, 2012: Clinton talked at a press conference about protests in several cities in Pakistan and then said:
"We found the video that’s at the core of this series of events offensive, disgusting, reprehensible. But that does not provide justification for violence, and therefore it is important for responsible leaders, indeed responsible people everywhere, to stand up and speak out against violence and particularly against those who would exploit this difficult moment to advance their own extremist ideologies. Yesterday afternoon, when I briefed the Congress, I made it clear that keeping our people everywhere in the world safe is our top priority. What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans."
It would be possible for a listener to conflate her comments about the video and Benghazi, but if you look closely at her statement she doesn’t do that. She blames the video on protests in Pakistan, but when she talks about Benghazi a couple of sentences later, she blames it on terrorism.
One more note: Charles Woods, father of Ty Woods who died in the attack, shared diary notes he took after meeting Clinton Sept. 14, 2012, for a Fox News report that aired on Oct. 23, 2015. Woods was in Washington for her testimony about Benghazi and had previously testified himself before a House committee in 2013.
"I gave Hillary a hug and shook her hand. And she said we are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of my son," the entry said.
Woods had previously recounted the same conversation to the media starting in 2012.
Carson said Clinton told her daughter and a government official that Benghazi "was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video." But he’s oversimplifying multiple statements from Clinton during the month of the attacks.
He has a point that Clinton told her daughter that terrorists attacked in Benghazi, and she told the Libyan president that a terrorist group had taken responsibility. But those were private comments made hours after the attack.
Carson misleads when he said that she told everybody else that it was a video. On the day after the attack, she told the Egyptian prime minister it had nothing to do with the film. At other times, Clinton talked about the video but didn’t say it caused the attacks. At other times, she blamed the video more broadly for protests in various places. A family member of a victim said Clinton blamed the video for his son’s death, but we didn’t find that same sentiment expressed in any of her public comments.
Carson is oversimplifying and distorting Clinton’s comments to portray a complex situation in the worst possible light. We rate his statement Mostly False.