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Last Thursday, there was a courtroom drama that outdid any episode of Perry Mason or Matlock, and drew a bigger audience than any trial since the first O.J. Simpson trial. There were seven prosecutors and five defense attorneys. The sole witness, the accused, a woman 67 years of age, was under examination for 11 1/2 hours with one break for lunch and another break for other reasons. Her calm demeanor was broken only twice, once when the character of Admiral Michael Glenn "Mike" Mullen was impugned (she was angry then) and once late in the day when she had a coughing fit. In the rest of the ordeal nobody laid a glove on her, in boxing parlance.

This was of course not a court trial but a meeting of a special House committee studying (are you ready for this?) the raid on our facility in Benghazi. The prosecutors were the Republican members and the her defenders were the five Democratic members of the committee. The defendant was former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton. Her crime was evidently and obviously her leading position in the race for President in 2016. Before the hearing was even held the purpose of the hearing was obvious and even admitted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to smear her reputation and thus handicap her run for president.

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Each of her prosecutors — or perhaps we should say persecutors — had a different line of attack. In a real trial her defense attorneys would have been jumping up like legal jacks in the boxes, questioning relevance and objecting to purported facts quoted but not in evidence. But this was a legislative hearing, and such protections were not afforded her.

An example: One congresswoman had a list of Secretary Clinton's top staff people who might have attended a meeting right after the tragedy. The congresswoman asked in machine gun fashion each name, "Was this person at the meeting, was that person at the meeting (etc)." The meeting had occurred at a time of high stress and over three years previously. The questions were obviously intended to trick her into making a mistake. But Hillary Clinton was too smart to fall into that trap.

Another questioner alleged that when long time Clinton friend Sydney Blumenthal suggested some publicity activity via email, and she thanked him for his advice, that Secretary Clinton was actually following the unsolicited advice instead of that provided by her top staffers. That allegation also went over like a lead balloon.

Their goal was to change voters' minds about Hillary Clinton. They succeeded beyond all expectations, but in an unexpected direction. After watching her calm and factual answers to the questions cleverly designed to trip her up my household had an epiphany. Bernie Sanders was yesterday's hero around here, but we saw our next president in the witness chair on Thursday last. It was like Babe Ruth in his prime batting against a bunch of Little League All-Stars.

I won't list her accusers by name. It might pollute my keyboard. Of her five estimable defenders I would offer special kudos to two, one kudo to Elijah Cummings, hopefully our next senator, who played his usual role as the adult in the room keeping the children in line, and another to Tammy Duckworth, Iraq War hero, who is maturing nicely into a national leader.

Did we learn anything factual from this hearing? Only two details. The State Department facility in Benghazi had not yet been promoted to a consulate. It was just an outpost. Also, the two CIA agents who were killed had a separate leader, a separate mission and a separate facility. They were employees of the Department of Homeland Security, and hence did not report to Secretary Clinton. The attack that killed them occurred later in the day and targeted the separate CIA facility. But facts like these are troublesome to those who want to blame Hillary Clinton for everything bad that has happened in the past two decades.

Bottom line, she won the day.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at cct@wexfordpress.com.

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