Elliott Abrams (former assistant secretary of state and deputy national-security adviser):
During her congressional testimony today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly defended her failure to see key cables dealing with Benghazi by noting how many cables the State Department receives. She explained there are 1.4 million cables to the department a year, all addressed to her as secretary.
That’s wrong — and this poor excuse is worth examining.
In fact, every cable sent from the department is signed “Clinton” as long as she is in Washington. If not, each cable bears the name of the acting secretary — usually deputy secretary Bill Burns. But it’s obvious that these cables are not actually from her, and many bear captions like “From the Assistant Secretary to the Ambassador.”
Similarly, cables sent to the department are not all to her; that is nonsense. They may be captioned “to SecState Washington,” but that of course means “to the Department.” They will often say for whom they are meant, e.g., “For NSC Powers, for DOD International Security Affairs, for State DRL, NEA, PM” and so on. And upon arrival at State they are distributed in accordance with set rules, to many bureaus and offices.
So which cables does the secretary actually see? There are two answers. First, an ambassador can caption a cable “From the Ambassador for the Secretary” or even “Eyes Only for the Secretary.” Obviously an ambassador can only rarely get away with this and his justification better be good. Such a cable will get to the secretary unless staff finds that it is foolish or worthless. One question not asked of Clinton: Did Chris Stevens ever send a cable during his entire tenure marked “From the Ambassador to the Secretary” and, if so, what did it say?