For many of the ordinary Americans who tuned in to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi Thursday, a pair of obvious questions undoubtedly arose: Who the hell is Sidney Blumenthal, and what does he have to do with the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya in 2012?
The answer to the second part of the question, at least based on the information released during the hearing, appears to be “not much.” But Blumenthal is an interesting character regardless of whether he had any influence at all on the events in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Blumenthal has moved in and out of the public spotlight in the U.S. for more than 20 years, and while he became a successful journalist in his own right well before he was ever associated with them, most of his celebrity is due to his connection to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Here are a few facts about Blumenthal that didn’t come out in the hearing Thursday.
He was a close advisor to Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Blumenthal spent almost all of the second term of the Bill Clinton administration in the White House, much of it as a very public defender of the president against Republicans in Congress. Known as a close confidant of the president, Blumenthal was required to testify before the grand jury investigating Clinton’s statements to the investigation headed by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
He was accused of perjuring himself during the Monica Lewinsky hearings by a former close friend.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens, formerly a close friend of Blumenthal’s, submitted an affidavit to the Republican members of the House of Representatives managing the impeachment of President Clinton, claiming that Blumenthal had lied to them. Hitchens’ move launched a years-long war of words between the two former friends that played out in publications both of them had written for over the years—The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
He once sued Matt Drudge for libel – and won a retraction.
Blumenthal was the victim of a false story published by Drudge at the time when AOL employed the well-known news aggregator. Drudge reported that Blumenthal beat his wife, attributing the story to sources in the Republican Party. Drudge later retracted the story and issued an apology to Blumenthal and his wife.
The Obama administration barred him from being hired by the Clinton State Department
His years in the Clinton administration made Blumenthal so well known as a partisan defender of the Clintons that when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton was tapped to be Secretary of State in the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made it clear that Blumenthal was not to be hired under any circumstances. That fact has been especially interesting to the Benghazi investigators, given that Clinton appears to have relied on Blumenthal as an informal advisor.
He’s writing a multi-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Blumenthal must be hoping right now that the old saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity holds true, at least through next year when the first volume of his multi-book biography of Abraham Lincoln, entitled “Self-Made Man,” is published by Simon and Schuster.