When Hillary Clinton postponed testifying before Congress on the Benghazi terrorist attacks due to illness, conspiracy theories popped up on the right accusing Clinton of faking a concussion and subsequent blood clot to avoid appearing before Congress.
Clinton’s testimony before the House and the Senate on Wednesday did not put those conspiracy theories to bed. Instead, it immediately gave rise to a new round of theories claiming the secretary’s show of emotion during her testimony was a ploy to dodge tough questions.
Clinton choked up while recalling four Americans killed upon a U.S. consulate in Libya before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning. In a second incident, she entered into a heated exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” a visibly riled Clinton told Johnson, after he questioned why the State Department didn’t quickly debunk reports that the attack had erupted out of protests. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Before the day was over, conservatives found ulterior motives behind these two parts of testimony.
Johnson said later that Clinton used emotion to get out of answering hard questions. “I’m not sure she had rehearsed for that type of question,” Johnson said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me.”
Right-wing talk show hosts drew similar conclusions.
Rush Limbaugh called Clinton’s emotional opening “part of the script.” Laura Ingraham tweeted an email into her show accusing Clinton of “lip-synching crying about Benghazi victims.” Ingraham appears to have deleted that tweet, which had already been grabbed by the left-wing watchdog group Media Matters.
Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his radio show that the Johnson exchange was part of Clinton’s strategy going into the hearings, likely developed by James Carville, the political strategist for former President Bill Clinton.
“This anger, this outrage, I can tell you was not spontaneous,” Hannity said Wednesday. “It was staged, probably [under] the direction of the ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ James Carville himself, or somebody else.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.