By Daymond Steer
CONWAY — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at an editorial board meeting Tuesday, sparred with a conservative columnist over Benghazi and spoke about how she'd address opioid addiction.
The former first lady, secretary of state and senator from New York is running neck-and-neck with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire Democratic primary polls. A third challenger, Martin O'Malley, is a distant third. The primary is Feb. 9.
Clinton took New Hampshire in 2008 and was the first woman to win a major party's presidential primary, but ultimately the nomination went to Barack Obama.
Before getting into the details of her foreign policy, Clinton, 68, who met with Sun staff for over an hour, took a swipe at Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, who leads the polls on the GOP side.
"Right now, particularly in the Republican primary, they are being given a catharsis, which is fine," said Clinton. "But if that's all you do, then it's really going to eat away at the body politic."
Clinton also alluded to recent news that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is starting to campaign for her. "My husband has a knack for explaining complicated issues in a way that's easy to understand," she said, and now that he's wrapped up his foundation work to help her on the stump, "I'm delighted," Clinton said.
"I think it will actually be an antidote to the sound and fury we are experiencing on the other side," she added.
Also on the personal front, Clinton talked about being a grandmother to 15-month-old Charlotte (who calls her "Gumma") and how she's over the moon at learning that daughter Chelsea is pregnant again.
Conway Daily Sun Publisher Mark Guerringue asked about her vote to support the Iraq War and her actions as secretary of state during the attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 that led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, two of which were with the CIA.
"With Iraq I have said numerous times that it was a mistake to give George Bush that authority, and I certainly believe as secretary of state I more than represented the best interest of our country," Clinton said. "There is nobody who is 100 percent right on every foreign policy call, and I think my record is one I'm very proud of."
As for Benghazi, she said eight or nine independent investigations have taken place. She also said that as a matter of course, the U.S. sends Americans into dangerous situations. "Reagan sent Marines to Beirut, and we lost hundreds of Marines, and we had our embassy bombed," said Clinton. "It was never made into a political issue."
"There were a lot of useful recommendations, and I accepted every one of them before I left," said Clinton. "I said 'OK let's fix this.'"
Republicans have tried to politicize the attacks, and Clinton spent 11 hours testifying before Congress about them.
Guerringue also asked about the controversy surrounding an email to her daughter in which she blamed the attack on "an al-Qaeda-like group," while a statement put out by her State Department made it appear that the attack was a spontaneous uprising stemming from a video on the Internet. She chalked up the mixed messages to the "fog of war" and likened the situation to a "40-alarm fire."
She said "responsible" congressional committees have concluded there were no military assets that could have arrived at the mission in time to save American lives. She said the intelligence committee said the CIA and its contractors had an annex relatively close by but they couldn't get there in time to save Stevens. Two CIA and two State Department people died, and she said using their deaths for political purposes "dishonors them." She said far more Americans were killed in attacks on diplomatic assaults in Beirut, Tanzania and Kenya.
Sun Columnist Tom McLaughlin said she told an Egyptian diplomat the Benghazi attack was planned and not a protest but that she told family members of the deceased that the attack was the result of a demonstration. He said she then told George Stephanopoulos that she didn't tell the families the attack was a demonstration about a film.
"Somebody is lying," said McLaughlin."Who is it?
Clinton replied, "Not me, that's all I can tell you."
At the time, Clinton said, everyone was emotionally distraught. She said some families didn't know their sons were working for the CIA or were in Benghazi. Clinton said the information she had about the attack was from the intelligence community.
"What happened is people were doing the best they could with information that was changing," said Clinton. "The CIA wrote and approved the talking points that were used. It was also true that from Egypt to Tunisia to Pakistan, the video was the primary spark that was sending people into protesting against our facilities. All of this was happening simultaneously."
Continuing to press, McLaughlin said three family members victims said that Clinton told him that the attack was the result of the video and or that the filmmaker should be arrested.
Clinton replied that other family members believe differently and stressed she had sympathy for all involved. "I can't recite for you everything that was in a conversation where people were sobbing, where people were distraught, the president and the vice president, we were all making the rounds talking to people, listening to people," said Clinton. "I was in a very difficult position because we have not yet said two of the four dead were CIA ... This was a part of the fog of war."
In terms of the U.S. involvement in Libya, which helped over throw Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddhafi in 2011, Clinton said the administration received support from Congress, the U.N. Security Council, and European and Arab states to act in a "supporting role."
She said as bad as parts of Libya are now, it's not as bad as Syria. She said President Barack Obama is on the right track in terms of Syria. Aside from special forces, Clinton said she is "adamantly against" putting American troops on the ground in Syria. "That would be a grave error," she said. But, she said, special forces is a different story.
On the domestic front, Clinton addressed the heroin epidemic that's gripping New Hampshire and the rest of the nation. She said numerous people on the campaign trail have asked her to address it. Clinton said that children of her friends have died of overdoses. Clinton also seeks to fight Alzheimer's disease if elected president. She unveiled her plan in Portsmouth.
"I really want to be a president who pays attention to what keeps people up at night," Clinton said, before leaving to address a crowd of several hundred in Berlin.