WASHINGTON — It was a grueling hearing. A month after the September 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, House Republicans grilled a top State Department official about security lapses at the outpost.
Later that day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tapped out an email to a close adviser: “Did we survive the day?” she wrote.
“Survive, yes,” the adviser emailed back, adding that he would continue to gauge reaction the next morning.
The roughly 300 emails from Mrs. Clinton’s private account that were turned over last month to a House committee investigating the attack showed the secretary and her aides closely monitoring the fallout from the tragedy, which threatened to damage her image and reflect poorly on the State Department.
They provided no evidence that Mrs. Clinton, as the most incendiary Republican attacks have suggested, issued a “stand down” order to halt American forces responding to the violence in Benghazi, or took part in a broad cover-up of the administration’s response, according to senior American officials.
But they did show that Mrs. Clinton’s top aides at times corresponded with her about State Department matters from their personal email accounts, raising questions about her recent assertions that she made it her practice to email aides at their government addresses so the messages would be preserved, in compliance with federal record-keeping regulations.
The emails have not been made public, and The New York Times was not permitted to review them. But four senior government officials offered descriptions of some of the key messages, on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to secret information.
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton said she and her aides had used their email accounts appropriately, while a spokesman for the Republican-controlled House committee declined to comment.
The correspondence offered a glimpse inside the secretary of state’s inbox — and her elusive email personality — including during those dark days just after the attack. Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a private email account that was housed on a server at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., while she was secretary of state, which kept many of the messages secret.
Strikingly, given that she has set off an uproar over her emails, Mrs. Clinton is not a verbose correspondent. At times, she sends her highly regarded foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, an email containing a news article, with a simple instruction: Please print. (Mrs. Clinton, though she has taken to Twitter and embraced other forms of modern technology, appears to like to read articles on paper.)
There were also the more mundane messages that crowd many government workers’ inboxes: scheduling, logistics, even a news alert about a breaking story from Politico, forwarded to the secretary by a senior aide.
The emails showed Mrs. Clinton and her inner circle reacting as the administration’s view of what happened in Benghazi changed, and the messages shed some light on a pivotal moment in the attack’s aftermath involving Susan E. Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations.
On Sept. 16, five days after the attack, Ms. Rice appeared on several Sunday news programs, including ABC’s “This Week,” to offer the administration’s view on the attack. Some conservatives suggested that Ms. Rice took on the role of public spokeswoman in those first few days after the attacks so that Mrs. Clinton could duck the controversy. (Ms. Rice has said that Mrs. Clinton declined to appear because she was tired after a grueling week.)
Read more: The NY Times