By Josh Rogin Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 5:06 PM
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will return to the State Department next week after three weeks of recovery from a stomach virus and a related concussion, The Cable has confirmed.
Clinton's ongoing recovery will still prevent her from flying abroad, but will allow plans to move forward for her to testify in open hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on Benghazi, testimony that she was unable to give -- as per her doctor's orders -- on Dec. 20. Her return to a public schedule could also end the weeks of conspiracy theorizing and wild speculation about whether or not she was faking or misrepresenting her illness to avoid testifying.
"The secretary continues to recuperate at home. She had long planned to take this holiday week off, so she had no work schedule. She looks forward to getting back to the office next week and resuming her schedule," Clinton aide Philippe Reines told The Cable.
Reines declined to say whether Clinton was at her Washington home or her house in Chappaqua, New York, but he said she did spend the holidays with her family. There's no definite schedule for her Benghazi testimony, but she has pledged to appear before both House and Senate foreign relations committees in January.
Since Dec. 9, when Clinton's stomach illness was first disclosed as the reason she pulled out of a planned trip to the Middle East and North Africa, a torrent of conservative pundits and media outlets have suggested or outright accused her of avoiding the public eye.
Insinuations that Clinton was faking or exacerbating her illness to avoid the Benghazi issue came from the Weekly Standard, the New York Post, the Daily Caller, hosts on Fox News's evening shows, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), the conservative website Pajamas Media, the Investors' Business Daily website, conservative blogger Lucianne Goldberg, and others.
The National Enquirer actually claimed that Clinton was suffering from brain cancer. "Considering the source I can't believe we even have to say this. But it's absolute nonsense," Reines said.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton became the highest-ranking former government official to publicly accuse Clinton of faking her illness on Dec. 18.
"Every Foreign Service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase that I'm about to use. When you don't want to go to a meeting or a conference or an event, you have a 'diplomatic illness.' And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band," Bolton said.
"I certainly hope it's nothing serious, but this was revealed in a way that I think that was not transparent, and I think there is an obligation here, especially if Secretary Clinton decides to run for president, to indicate what happened," Bolton said. "She may beat testifying this week, but she's not going to escape it forever."
Bolton's accusation came three days after Clinton's doctors, Lisa Bardack of the Mt. Kisco Medical Group and Gigi El-Bayoumi of the George Washington University, issued a detailed statement about the secretary's injuries.
"Secretary Clinton developed a stomach virus, leading to extreme dehydration, and subsequently fainted. Over the course of this week we evaluated her and ultimately determined she had also sustained a concussion. We recommended that the Secretary continue to rest and avoid any strenuous activity, and strongly advised her to cancel all work events for the coming week," they said.
But Bolton accused Clinton of a pattern of avoiding the public that predated her illness and concussion. "The secretary has stayed out of the limelight ever since the attack of Sept. 11," he said.
In fact, Clinton held 14 press availabilities and gave nine separate press interviews between Sept. 12 and Dec. 7, when she fell ill. She also briefed the full House and the full Senate Sept. 20 on Benghazi.
In an e-mail to The Cable Thursday, Bolton explained that his comments on Clinton's illness were meant to highlight the administration's lack of openness about her medical condition.
"A fair listener would understand that my central point was the lack of transparency about her status," Bolton said. "Such a lack of transparency cannot be sustained in a presidential campaign, for example, where observers might infer that her condition was worse than it actually was. That's what I said, fair and balanced."
In addition to the Dec. 15 doctor's statement, the State Department has issued four separate statements on Clinton's health, on Dec. 9, 10, 15 and 19. Thursday's statement to The Cable marks the fifth time Clinton's representatives have spoken on the record about her progress outside of the State Department briefing room. In a background quote to ABC news Dec. 17, a U.S. official went into even more detail.
"According to the official, the secretary had two teams of doctors, including specialists, examine her. They also ran tests to rule out more serious ailments beyond the virus and the concussion. During the course of the week, Clinton was on an IV drip and being monitored by a nurse, while also recovering from the pain caused by the fall," ABC reported.
Top GOP lawmakers have rallied to Clinton's defense. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable that he believes Clinton has been honest and forthright about her medical condition.
"I have no doubts that Secretary Clinton has been ill and suffered a concussion. I know she will testify and statements to the contrary are misplaced," said Graham.
In a press conference last week, Graham said he wants Clinton to testify on Benghazi before she steps down from office, but reiterated that her illness was real and serious.
"To those who suggest that she's dodging her responsibilities because she's not sick, I think that's inappropriate and not true," Graham said. "I know she's sick now. I know she is not appearing because she really is ill."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) acknowledged the veracity of Clinton's illness at her Dec. 20 hearing and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also backed Clinton up in a Dec. 19 Fox News appearance.
"I must say, I have never seen Secretary Clinton back down from a fight. And I have never seen her back down. And I believe that she is now not physically well enough to testify and she will testify the middle of January," he said.
Outrage over the charge that Clinton has been misleading the American public about her illness extends well past Washington. The NFL Players Association, apparently concerned about the seeming trivialization of similar injuries, felt compelled to weigh in and admonish those who would downplay the secretary's ordeal.
"A concussion is a serious injury that should not be discounted or belittled for political purposes," NFLPA Assistant Executive Director George Atallah said in a statement. "The Players Association has worked tirelessly not only to address this problem at the professional level, but to educate the general public about the risks to youths playing sports of all kinds. Efforts to raise awareness and teach prevention are undermined whenever someone dismisses the impact of a concussion. We must set a better example consistent with what we know to be the medical truth."