Early in the morning on the day the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a movie on her mind.
But she wasn’t thinking about “The Innocence of Muslims,” the short YouTube film that the Obama administration erroneously blamed for the Benghazi attack. Instead, Clinton sought a copy of “The Oath of Tobruk,” a documentary about the Libyan civil war directed by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and brought to America by her friend, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Clinton made an appearance in the movie, which Weinstein touted earlier in 2012 as an ode to Clinton’s and the Obama administration’s successful Libyan intervention.
But Clinton likely did not know when she requested a copy of the movie — in a 6 a.m. email to Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, two of her top aides — that her Libyan legacy was about to go south.
“Can you get us a copy of Bernard Henri-Levi’s film about Libya?” asked in the email to Reines and Abedin. “I think Harvey made it and it showed at Cannes last spring.”
The early-morning message was buried in a trove of emails published Thursday by The New York Times.
Around the time Clinton sent the email, protesters were gathering outside of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Hours later, terrorists with ties to al-Qaida stormed the consulate in Benghazi and killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
At around 6 a.m. EST, just as Clinton was hitting “send,” the embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning the 14-minute long “Innocence of Muslims,” which had caused outrage in much of the Muslim world because of its depiction of Muhammad.
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” read the statement.
For a week after the Benghazi attack the Obama administration’s official position was that the video sparked the Cairo protest which in turn sparked a spontaneous spurt of violence at Benghazi. That theory proved to be false as it was determined that the attack was pre-planned well in advance and that the video was not a motivating factor.
In his 100-minute “Tobruk,” Lévy documents eight months of the Libyan civil war, which ended with the October 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Clinton provides commentary in the film, as do former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.
Though it is unclear why Clinton sought a copy of “Tobruk,” it likely was not because of some great insight the movie provided into the Libyan civil war and its aftermath.
The movie received poor reviews, mostly because of Lévy’s self-aggrandizing presentation.
A review in Variety slammed the director’s “treatment of the Libyan desert as little more than a GQ fashion shoot with himself as model.”
The movie also does not “say much about the real nature of Gaddafi’s defeat,” according to the review.
“Interviews with Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and others are edited to reflect BHL’s importance and glory, while scenes of adulatory crowds cheering him in Benghazi testify to his skills in selling himself as the embodiment of First World action,” the scathing review continues. “The chaotic nature of the opposition is nowhere seen, and there’s little sense of what was happening on the battlefields.”
In announcing acquisition of the U.S. rights for “Tobruk,” Weinstein, a major Democratic donor, touted Clinton’s leadership on Libya.
“This wonderful movie shows [Lévy’s] incredible courage and the strength of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and also highlights the invaluable leadership from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” he said in a statement at the time.
“American audiences will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how our government and the French government worked together to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians and brilliantly handled the overthrow of a government,” continued Weinstein, who later showed the movie at the Cannes film festival in France.