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“What difference does it make?” Ted Cruz is being wildly misleading about Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi reaction

Clinton Testifies Before House Foreign Affairs Cmte On Benghazi Attacks Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ted Cruz, describing the difference between the political parties, said that Democrats are the party "that responds to the death of Americans at Benghazi by asking, ‘What difference does it make?’"

If you’ve been listening to Republican convention speeches this week, you’ll have heard many, many, many variations on this riff — Republicans aren’t quite sure exactly why it’s Hillary Clinton’s fault that Americans died at Benghazi (spoiler: because it’s not), but they are damn sure it was callous of her to respond that indifferently to the deaths when it occurred.

As you might suspect if you haven’t been marinating in conservative talk radio for the past five years, there’s a reason that response sounds unimaginably callous.

What actually happened is that at a 2013 hearing months after the attack took place, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Clinton why it took the Obama administration several days to get its story straight as to what caused mob to approach the compound in the first place. Clinton’s answer was that given the emergency nature of the situation, getting to the bottom of that question was a relatively low priority (emphasis added):

Johnson: No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.

Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Johnson: OK. Thank you, Madame Secretary.

This is in some ways a small thing, but it’s important to understand that the decontextualized version of the story that Cruz told on the convention floor has been told over and over and over again by a variety of conservative figures to a variety of audiences for years. The people who hear this stuff assume they are not being lied to by the radio hosts whose programs they enjoy and by the politicians they vote for.

That’s why Republican supporters are chanting for Clinton to go to jail and calling her a traitor.

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