Did Republicans Hold 33 Benghazi Hearings and Make Hillary Clinton Testify for 11 Hours?

In October 2019, the Facebook page “Occupy Democrats” shared the following tweet, which claimed that Republicans held 33 “Benghazi hearings” — and that Hillary Clinton testified for eleven hours as they ran their course:

According to his Twitter biography, Lerner was at that point a political operative for a group called “Build the Wave.” His tweet read:

Remember when Republicans held 33 hearings to “investigate” Benghazi?

Everyone knew it was all to smear Hillary, but the Obama admin still complied w/ every singe subpoena — Hillary even testified for 11 hours.

Why? Because they had nothing to hide & respected the rule of law.

We were unable to find whether Lerner shared any follow-up information or citations for the claim on Twitter. On Facebook, “Occupy Democrats” did not (as far as we could see) link to any information substantiating the claim, either. Commenters on the original tweet reiterated the “33 Benghazi hearings” number, with one asserting that nearly all of them had been held behind closed doors:

A second claim in the tweet was that Clinton testified for eleven hours. This part was easy to verify. NPR (“Clinton Endures An 11-Hour Grilling Before Benghazi Committee”), the Los Angeles Times (“Benghazi hearing ends after extraordinary 11-hour grilling of Clinton”), NBC News, Politico (“Clinton survives 11-hour Benghazi grilling”), and the Guardian (“Hillary Clinton deflects conservative jabs in 11-hour House Benghazi hearing”), among many others, all published October 2015 coverage of Clinton’s testimony at one such hearing. The Guardian reported:

Hillary Clinton put the controversy over terrorist attacks in Benghazi firmly behind her [in October 2015] after eleven hours of frequently meandering questions from conservative critics failed to dent the former secretary of state’s campaign for president … Around 8.40pm, some 11 hours after the hearing began and with only 75 minutes of breaks, Clinton got a coughing fit. “Would you like us to take 60 seconds, a two-minute break?” asked chairman [Trey] Gowdy. “No, I’ll just take a lozenge,” was the croaky reply.

That coverage centered primarily on Clinton’s October 2015 appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, also known as the Benghazi Select Committee, which was chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina.)

In June 2015  — four months before Clinton testified — the New York Observer reported that the Committee had as of that point held three hearings:

Led by a an 18-member Republican staff, whose full time employees are paid an average of $128,750 per year, the Benghazi Select Committee [had] proceeded at a plodding pace. Thus far, it [had as of June 2015] held only three hearings and by the end of [that] week will have interviewed just 29 witnesses. In comparison the Congressional investigation into the Iran Contra scandal lasted 10.5 months, during which time investigators conducted 500 interviews along with 40 days of public hearings … The Benghazi Select Committee has little to show for the significant expenditure — aside from a trail of unfulfilled promises by its Chairman. “We will have hearings in January, February and March,” Rep. Gowdy (R-SC) announced in December [2014].

At that point in the Committee’s existence, the organization was comparing overall expenditure on the investigation into Benghazi with what at the time was a relatively small number of actual hearings:

Two days after his December [2014] announcement, Rep. [Trey] Gowdy told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren the committee would hold a hearing in January [2015] to explore why the State Department was in Benghazi. That hearing never occurred.

The New York Observer also noted that in May 2014, Republicans fretted over whether a proposed committee on Benghazi “would fail to produce tangible results.” News items from May 2014 indicated some Republican lawmakers feared (rightfully, as it turned out) that the investigation could prove to be “a rabbit hole.”

In October 2015, PolitiFact examined a claim made by Clinton that seven investigations into Benghazi had thus far been held, rating that claim “mostly true.” Wikipedia’s general Benghazi page listed ten total investigations into Benghazi:

There were ten investigations into the Benghazi matter: one by the FBI; one by an independent board commissioned by the State Department; two by Democrat-controlled Senate Committees; and six by Republican-controlled House Committees. After the first five Republican investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing by senior Obama administration officials, Republicans in 2014 opened a sixth investigation, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, chaired by Trey Gowdy. This investigation also failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing by senior Obama administration officials.

In December 2018, PolitiFact examined claims contrasting the Mueller report on Russian interference into the 2016 United States elections with Benghazi and other controversies:

Lawmakers in May 2014 began investigating the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Led mostly by Republicans, critics saw the congressional investigations as a political move against Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state when the attack happened. The investigations concluded in 2016, costing about $7 million. The investigations did not suggest that Clinton was personally responsible for or could have prevented the attack.

The Committee included seven Republicans (including Gowdy) and five Democrats. Then-Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi appointed five Democrats “to be there to fight for a fair hearing and process, to try to bring some openness and transparency to what’s going on.”

In that respect, it is fair to say House Republicans were broadly in favor of forming the Benghazi Select Committee (255 to seven), and while the Committee had seven Republicans, it also had five Democrats. The Committee was formed broadly with little support from Democrat caucuses, but was functionally bipartisan by design.

So where did the claim “33 Benghazi hearings” originate? That figure appeared in a June 2016 Vanity Fair article, which began:

After a more than two-year investigation, encompassing 33 hearings held in congressional investigations and four public hearings, at an estimated cost of $7 million and counting, Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee [in June 2016] released their long-awaited report on the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the death of four Americans. With the general election five months away, many predicted that the 800-page report would inflame the already fiery 2016 presidential election by finding evidence of wrongdoing by presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack. But it seems that while the committee’s investigation will certainly thrust Benghazi back into the public eye, and it did manage to unearth some new details, Republicans once again failed to find a smoking gun to pin the tragedy on Clinton.

Vanity Fair linked “33 hearings” on Benghazi to a defunct page originally hosted at BenghaziCommittee.com, archived here. A footer on that site indicated that it was related to Correct the Record:

© 2016 Correct The Record. Paid For By Correct The Record. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Correct The Record was a crowdsourced opposition research project by David Brock from 2016, described by Wikipedia as an initiative “aimed to find and confront social media users who posted unflattering messages about Clinton and paid anonymous tipsters for unflattering scoops about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, including audio and video recordings and internal documents.” Correct the Record included dozens of links for that single citation:

33: Number of congressional hearings, public or private, held on the Benghazi tragedy according to publicly available hearing transcripts, congressional reports, and committee websites and fact sheets.

The attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya occurred on September 11 2012; twelve of the 33 links were to do with hearings that occurred in the latter part of 2012 alone, and did not relate to the Committee.

A further eleven hearings counted in the 33 took place between the end of 2012 and the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s first hearing on September 17 2014 (“two years after the attack and four months after the launch of the special investigation.”) In total, 23 of the 33 “hearings” came after the Benghazi Commission chaired by Gowdy, leaving ten which may or may not have taken place during the active operating window of that Commission.

Lerner’s tweet and the “Occupy Democrats” post about 33 Benghazi hearings was a number calculated by pro-Hillary Clinton organization Correct the Record, sometimes abbreviated CTR. Citations for the claim were primarily buried within archives and difficult to find, but the one we located shed further light on the claim. When 33 Benghazi hearings were counted, everything up to and including activity the day following the attacks was tallied. That number was later provided as the total number of hearings, when only a fraction and not the majority even involved the Benghazi Committee itself.