The claim: Hillary Clinton ‘slept as Benghazi burned’ and Joe Biden ‘vacationed as Afghanistan fell’
During the presidential race in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly claimed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slept through the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Trump eventually acknowledged he had no evidence to support this assertion, telling NBC in an interview, “who knows if she was sleeping … she might have been sleeping.”
Now, in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, the narrative has resurfaced in a post by the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is attempting to draw a comparison between Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attack and President Joe Biden’s reaction to the situation in Kabul.
“Hillary slept as Benghazi burned. Joe vacationed as Afghanistan fell,” reads an Aug. 22 Instagram post from Trump Jr. that accumulated more than 274,000 likes within a day.
“You guys noticed a pattern with Democrats and work ethic here?” Trump captioned the text meme. “Then again maybe just better off on vacation because I can only imagine how much worse he would make it if he was actually at the helm and in charge.”
The same meme has been shared to iFunny and the Instagram page Unapologetic Patriot. It’s also appeared on various merchandise websites that are selling T-shirts and sweaters with the phrase printed on them.
But evidence shows Clinton was not asleep during the Benghazi attack, contrary to the claims made over the years.
Meanwhile, Biden cut his Camp David vacation short amid the Taliban takeover and returned to Washington.
Fact check roundup: What’s true and what’s false about the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Trump and the Unapologetic Patriot did not return requests for comment.
Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attacks
Clinton’s emails and phone calls and numerous congressional investigations found she was not sleeping while the attack in Benghazi occurred.
“I had secure phones. I had other equipment that kept me in touch with the State Department at all times,” Clinton said in her congressional testimony on Oct. 22, 2015. “I did not sleep all night. I was very much focused on what we were doing.”
The first attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi took place on Sept. 11, 2012, at approximately 3:42 p.m. ET, 9:42 p.m. in Benghazi, according to a timeline from the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In her book “Hard Choices,” Clinton writes that she was in her office when she received the news from the department’s executive secretary Stephen Mull, and her first action was to pick up a secure phone on her desk “and hit the button that instantly connected” her to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
The State Department and the White House Situation Room were informed about the attack at about 4:06 p.m., receiving an “ops alert” that said, “mission under attack. Armed men. Shots fired. Explosions heard.”
In her book, Clinton said she directed the State Department operations team to work with the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to “get our people to safety.” She also called CIA Director David Petraeus “since the Agency maintained the nearby post with a heavy security force,” and got ready for the possibility of other attacks.
At 8 p.m., Clinton called Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy, who said in testimony that he “briefed her on developments” and discussed “what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi.”
A little after 11 p.m., Clinton emailed her daughter, Chelsea, and informed her that two officers were killed in Benghazi, per news reports. She emailed colleagues at 11:38 p.m., asking if Stevens’ death should be announced that night or the next morning.
Biden’s vacation cut short
Trump’s claim that Biden “vacationed as Afghanistan fell” is misleading and a similar claim was rated partly false by USA TODAY. While Biden planned to take a two-week vacation starting the week of Aug. 9, his public schedule shows that he cut his trip short.
After his speech, he returned to Camp David, arriving there at around 5:30 p.m. ET. Biden’s vacation ended on Aug. 17, one day earlier than planned.
While Biden was at Camp David, he was receiving briefings from his national security team through a secure video conference, according to news reports.
This morning, the President and Vice President held a video conference with the national security team to discuss the ongoing efforts to draw down our civilian footprint in Afghanistan. In addition, the President and Vice President were briefed on the earthquake in Haiti. pic.twitter.com/7BKSdJ8OKo
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 14, 2021
When questioned on Aug.17 why Biden was not at the White House while the events in Afghanistan unfolded, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters, “I was intimately familiar with his working habits over the course of the weekend, because I was on the phone with him constantly.”
Sullivan added that Biden was “monitoring developments hour by hour,” making decisions about troop deployments. He said Biden “has been deeply engaged” in the situation in Afghanistan.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Clinton “slept as Benghazi burned” and Biden “vacationed as Afghanistan fell.” Congressional investigations, testimonies, phone calls and email exchanges prove Clinton was engaged and working late into the night on Sept. 11, 2012. It’s misleading to claim Biden “vacationed as Afghanistan fell,” as he cut his trip short and delivered remarks at the White House. Biden also was working from Camp David.
Our fact-check sources:
- PolitiFact, June 23, 2016, Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton ‘slept’ through Benghazi attack
- FactCheck.org, April 28, 2016, Trump on Clinton’s ‘3 a.m. Call’
- PolitiFact, Oct. 12, 2015, Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far
- House Select Committee on Benghazi, accessed Aug. 24, TIMELINE OF SIGNIFICANT EVENTS DURING THE ATTACKS
- Hillary Clinton, June 10, 2014, “Hard Choices”
- House Select Committee on Benghazi, Oct. 22, 2015, Hearing 4
- Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, May 8, 2013, House Hearing
- The Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2016, Latest State release: Clinton emails with Chelsea after Benghazi attacks and more
- NPR, May 22, 2015, Some Clinton Emails Were Retroactively Classified
- PolitiFact, Aug. 20, Claim wrong about Biden, Harris, Psaki being off of work amid Afghanistan crisis
- Factbase, accessed Aug. 24, Joe Biden- President’s Public Schedule
- USA TODAY, Aug. 15, A timeline of the US withdrawal and Taliban recapture of Afghanistan
- USA TODAY, Aug. 16, ‘I stand squarely behind my decision’: Biden defends handling of Afghanistan as Taliban forces seize Kabul
- Fox News, Aug. 17, Biden cuts vacation short, returns to the White House
- CNN, Aug. 15, Biden officials admit miscalculation as Afghanistan’s national forces and government rapidly fall
- CNN, Aug. 17, Biden “has been deeply engaged” in monitoring Afghanistan from Camp David, national security adviser says
- White House, Aug. 17, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, August 17, 2021
- USA TODAY, Aug., 25, Fact check: Biden didn’t take full vacation during Afghanistan withdrawal
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