What did Hillary Clinton know about the Benghazi attack, and when did she know it? After three years of Congressional investigation and demands for documentation, it took Judicial Watch and the Freedom of Information Act to get a clear answer. According to a State Department e-mail chain that was addressed to then-Secretary of State Clinton, the State Department knew that Ansar al-Sharia, a terror network aligned with al-Qaeda, had already claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet Clinton, State, and the Obama administration would claim for the next two weeks that the attack had been a spontaneous demonstration provoked by a little-known YouTube video:

Judicial Watch announced today that on February 11, 2015, it uncovered documents from the U.S. Department of State revealing that top aides for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, including her then-chief of staff Cheryl Mills, knew from the outset that the Benghazi mission compound was under attack by armed assailants tied to a terrorist group.  The documents were produced as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the State Department (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State ((No. 1:14-cv-01511).  The documents make no reference to a spontaneous demonstration or Internet video, except in an official statement issued by Hillary Clinton.

On September 11, 2012, 4:38 PM, State Department Foreign Service Officer Lawrence Randolph forwarded Mills, Sullivan and McManus an email from Scott Bultrowicz, who was the former director of the Diplomatic Security Service (ousted following review of the attack), with the subject line, “Attack on Benghazi 09112012”:

DSCC received a phone call from [REDACTED] in Benghazi, Libya initially stating that 15 armed individuals were attacking the compound and trying to gain entrance. The Ambassador is present in Benghazi and currently is barricaded within the compound. There are no injuries at this time and it is unknown what the intent of the attackers is. At approximately 1600 DSCC received word from Benghazi that individuals had entered the compound. At 1614 RSO advised the Libyans had set fire to various buildings in the area, possibly the building that houses the Ambassador [REDACTED] is responding and taking fire. 

Nearly seven hours later, at 12:04 am, on September 12, Randolph sends an email with the subject line “FW: Update 3: Benghazi Shelter Location Also Under Attack” to Mills, Sullivan, and McManus that has several updates about the Benghazi attack:

I just called Ops and they said the DS command center is reporting that the compound is under attack again.  I am about to reach out to the DS Command Center.

This email also contains a chain of other, earlier email updates:

September 11, 2012 11:57 PM email:  “(SBU) DS Command reports the current shelter location for COM personnel in Benghazi is under mortar fire.  There are reports of injuries to COM staff.”

September 11, 2012 6:06 PM (Subject: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack (SBU):  “(SBU) Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and call for an attack on Embassy Tripoli”

September 11, 2012, 4:54 PM: “Embassy Tripoli reports the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi has stopped and the compound has been cleared. A response team is on site to locate COM personnel.”

Note the time differences here, which are all Eastern Time at the State Department. The first flash comes at 4:38 PM, noting an armed attack on the compound by 15 armed individuals. There is no mention of a demonstration or riot in this information. Eighteen minutes later, the firing has supposedly stopped and the compound cleared, with the personnel that could be found retreating to the “shelter location.” Just 72 minutes after that, the State Department knows that Ansar al-Sharia has claimed responsibility — a known group that publicly allies itself with al-Qaeda, and who had demonstrated in force a few months earlier in Benghazi. Also, less than six hours later, the shelter location starts taking mortar fire in a second-wave attack, which could hardly be the result of a spontaneous riot — especially given the covert nature of the location.

So why the big head-fake about the video? Hillary Clinton and others say that the information came from the CIA, and have been saying that since this narrative fell apart in late September 2012. The CIA has pushed back through leaks of its own against that allegation. These documents establish that State certainly knew enough to question any suggestion that it was just a riot run amok, if not discard it immediately. However, the “spontaneous demonstration” certainly looked better a few weeks ahead of a presidential election that admitting that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had not provided enough security for a diplomatic outpost in Libya after their campaign to decapitate the Qaddafi regime, and that the administration had not thought to ensure that a military response could be made on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

As Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said in his statement last night:

“These emails leave no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s closest advisers knew the truth about the Benghazi attack from almost the moment it happened,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And it is inescapable that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knowingly lied when she planted the false story about ‘inflammatory material being posted on the Internet.’ The contempt for the public’s right to know is evidenced not only in these documents but also in the fact that we had to file a lawsuit in federal court to obtain them.  The Obama gang’s cover-up continues to unravel, despite its unlawful secrecy and continued slow-rolling of information.  Congress, if it ever decides to do its job, cannot act soon enough to put Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills, and every other official in these emails under oath.”

If Hillary Clinton really does decide to run for President on the basis of her tenure at State, she’d better start coming up with answers about the initial cover story.