At a rally on Monday, Donald Trump appeared to have misattributed a leaked email statement about Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi attack to longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal, when Blumenthal was in fact quoting directly from a Newsweek article published last year.
Trump on Monday told his crowd of supporters in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, that “sleazy Sidney” was “now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi. This just came out a little while ago.”
The problem, though, is that the “admission” Trump was referring to — a line in the leaked email saying “the attack was almost certainly preventable. Clinton was in charge of the State Department” — was not written by Blumenthal.
On Monday, WikiLeaks released a second batch of emails taken from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s inbox. One of those emails, addressed to undisclosed recipients with the subject line “the truth,” was from Blumenthal, but the words in the email were not his. They were taken from a Newsweek article titled “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages,” written by Kurt Eichenwald in October 2015.
In 2012, a coordinated attack against two US government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Republicans have since scrutinised what intelligence then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had about a looming ambush on the facilities, and whether she could have prevented it.
Here’s the actual email:
It is unclear what Blumenthal was referring to when he wrote “the truth” in the subject line of his email. But the entire email, which Trump mischaracterized as Blumenthal’s own words, was actually a copy-and-paste of sections of Eichenwald’s 2015 piece.
Questions remain about how Trump confused Blumenthal’s words for Eichenwald’s when the email references and cites Newsweek throughout.
An article published Monday by the state-sponsored Russian news agency Sputnik may provide a partial answer. The article, either purposefully or mistakenly, also attributed the Newsweek quote to Blumenthal.
Sputnik — launched in 2014 by Rossiya Segodnya, an agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government — wrote that the email proved Clinton’s inner circle knew she was responsible for Benghazi and “put to rest the Democratic Party talking point that the investigation into Clinton’s management of the State Department at the time of the attack was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.”
On Monday, Eichenwald responded to the Blumenthal controversy with his own article, effectively claiming that Trump was either purposefully or unwittingly regurgitating Russian propaganda. Given Russia’s partiality to weaponizing information, WikiLeaks’ connections to the Kremlin, Trump’s repeated praise of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s own distaste for Hillary Clinton, that would not be a stretch.
BuzzFeed’s Jon Passantino claimed on Twitter later, however, that the Sputnik article was published four hours after a tweet with a screenshot of the Blumenthal email — taken out of context with the Newsweek citation not visible — went viral.
“How do we know Trump was reading Sputnik story & not this viral tweet with thousands of RTs?” Passantino asked.
It is still unclear whether Trump and his aides got the incorrect information from Sputnik or from Twitter. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
It is clear, however, that neither Trump nor his campaign double-checked the original leaked email before it was offered to his supporters as proof of a major conspiracy within Clinton’s inner circle.
Or, Trump did see the original email and just didn’t care to mention that the words in it were not Blumenthal’s. After all, the candidate’s reading of Blumenthal’s alleged “admission” was well received by the Pennsylvania crowd, who booed and chanted “Lock her up!” as he looked on.
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