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The Key To 'Accountability' — And Why You'll Be Hearing It A Lot This Week


Now it's time for Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. Today, our word is accountability. So, sure, we know what it means, but we wanted to know why we'll be hearing this word so much later this week when former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton testifies before House Republicans looking at the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attacks. New York Times writer Michael Schmidt has been following this story closely, and he's going to help us. Hi, Michael.

MICAHEL SCHMIDT: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So tell me why I'm going to hear the word accountability enough for many lifetimes by the end of this week.

SCHMIDT: So Hillary Clinton will be going before the House Benghazi committee. This was created by Republicans to sort of find out who and why these attacks in Benghazi happened and who should be held accountable for them. That's at least why they say they started their investigation. Now, in the process of that, a lot of other things have happened. They found out about her email accounts, and now she's going up there. And they want to hold her accountable. They want to see what she knew, what she could have done in regards to the attack, while the same time raising questions about her emails.

MARTIN: Well, in (unintelligible), you broke the news that Clinton was using her private email server to conduct government business while she was Secretary of State. So is the focus really on her accountability for what happened in Benghazi? Or is it about her accountability for using that private email server, which she has now said was a mistake.

SCHMIDT: That's the real question. The House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said a few weeks ago that the committee had basically being created to hurt Mrs. Clinton. That really hurt the committee because it made it look like it was a political exercise, one that was using emails and Benghazi to hurt Mrs. Clinton. Indeed, they have hurt Mrs. Clinton, but what's happened now is that the committee is under a lot of fire. They say, you're using the deaths of these guys to attack Mrs. Clinton. You don't really care about what happened in Benghazi. So it's like saying, you're trying to hold her accountable for maybe the wrong reasons.

MARTIN: Speaking of accountability, I mean, there is another narrative around that hold situation in Benghazi which suggests that this is a terrorist act. It may have been sparked by this, you know, really offensive video. And is there another opportunity for accountability? Is it possible that accountability for this is outside the United States government?

SCHMIDT: I think that many times in our government, we like to think that there are specific things that we can figure out about what we did and what we could have done better and how did we cause this and how could it have been prevented. I think we think we can really sort of study ourselves. So I think that part of the initial idea on this was to provide answers. Why were we in Libya? Was there enough security? Did we cause this somehow? And is there more that we could have done? The problem is in that process, it's become very political and very messy.

MARTIN: Is there a chance, given all that you've just told us, that someone or some entity will be accountable for what happened in Benghazi at the end of this process?

SCHMIDT: I think you're starting to get into sort of historical questions at that point. Is anyone in the United States government going to go to jail for what happened in Benghazi? Probably not. Those attacks happened in 2012. We're several years out here. Are people going to be embarrassed in the State Department for maybe not doing more - or in military? We've already seen some of that. Will history hold people accountable for this at the State Department? Will some of that end up on Hillary Clinton? Maybe. But in terms of a larger sense, I don't know what more we can find out.

MARTIN: That's Michael Schmidt of The New York Times Michael, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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