A federal judge in Washington has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Hillary Clinton’s lax security surrounding her emails led to the deaths of two of the Americans killed in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
In a ruling Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson tossed out the wrongful death claims as well as allegations that Clinton essentially slandered the parents of the deceased by contradicting accounts the parents gave of events related to their children’s deaths.
The suit was filed last August by Patricia Smith, the mother of State Department information officer Sean Smith, and Charles Woods, the father of CIA operative Tyrone Woods.
The parents sued weeks after Patricia Smith took to the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to deliver an emotional speech blasting the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and for failing to save the four Americans who died in the Benghazi attack while she was secretary of state: Smith, Woods, CIA operative Glen Doherty and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
Jackson dismissed the wrongful death portion of the suit on technical grounds after granting the State Department’s motion to step in as the defendant on those claims. The Obama-appointed judge concluded Clinton used her email in the course of her official duties.
“The Court finds that Secretary Clinton was acting in the scope of her employment when she transmitted the emails that are alleged to give rise to her liability,” Jackson wrote in her 29-page opinion. “The untimely death of plaintiffs’ sons is tragic, and the Court does not mean to minimize the unspeakable loss that plaintiffs have suffered in any way. But when one applies the appropriate legal standards, it is clear that plaintiffs have not alleged sufficient facts to rebut the presumption that Secretary Clinton was acting in her official capacity when she used her private email server.”
Jackson cautioned that she was not opining on the appropriateness of Clinton’s use of the private server or on whether what she said publicly about the Benghazi episode in its immediate aftermath.
“Nothing about this decision should be construed as making any determination or expressing any opinion about the propriety of the use of the private email server or the content or accuracy of the statements made by the Secretary to the family members or to anyone else in the days following the Benghazi attack,” the judge wrote.
Jackson added that she was also not making a determination about whether Clinton’s use of the private server was legal or not.
For the purposes of the suit, “it…does not matter whether Secretary Clinton used a private email server lawfully or unlawfully. Instead, the relevant inquiry is whether Secretary Clinton’s electronic communications with State Department personnel about official business during her tenure were within the scope of her employment as the head of the State Department,” the judge said. “Her actions – communicating with other State Department personnel and advisors about the official business of the department – fall squarely within the scope of her duty to run the Department and conduct the foreign affairs of the nation as Secretary of State.”
The judge also rejected the defamation claims, concluding that Clinton’s public statements that the family members’ were “wrong” about what she’d said to them about the motivation for the attack were not the equivalent of saying they lied. In short, Jackson concluded that Clinton was saying that the parents could be mistaken in their recollection, particularly given the impact of their children’s deaths.
“Secretary Clinton did not refer to plaintiffs as liars,” Jackson noted. “Plaintiffs may find the candidate’s statements in her own defense to be ‘unpleasant or offensive,’ but Secretary Clinton did not portray plaintiffs as ‘odious, infamous, or ridiculous….’ To the contrary, the statements portray plaintiffs as normal parents, grieving over the tragic loss of their loved ones.”
In the days following the September 11, 2012 assault in Benghazi, Clinton and other administration officials linked the attack to protests in various places in the Muslim world over an anti-Islam movie trailer released on the internet. However, U.S. intelligence officials ultimately concluded that the assault using mortars and other weapons was not a spontaneous outpouring of anger but an organized attack.
Conservatives have contended that the Obama administration delayed acknowledging the pre-planned nature of the assault because it would have undercut Obama’s campaign in the presidential election which was then just weeks away. Clinton and other Obama aides have said the initial intelligence did link the attack to the widespread protests.
The lawsuit’s email-related claims, redirected against the government, were dismissed because suits against a federal agency for money damages must generally be presented to the agency involved before a court case is filed.
A lawyer for Clinton, David Kendall, declined to comment on the decision.
The attorney for Smith and Woods, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, vowed an appeal while slamming the decision as “simply dishonest and an outrage.”
Klayman said his clients should have been allowed to force Clinton into a deposition to question her about her use of the private server he called “illegal” but which former FBI Director James Comey said did not meet the standards for prosecution.
Klayman said Jackson should have allowed a jury to decide whether Clinton’s statements were defamatory. The judge “clearly put politics and ahead of her oath of office as a judge to administer to the law in a neutral unbiased way,” the longtime Clinton gadfly added.
“Judge Jackson, who is an Obama appointee and a Democrat, was clearly protecting Mrs. Clinton and this intellectually dishonest decision will be appealed. My clients are confident of success,” Klayman said.