U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and a CIA contractor who survived the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya said Sunday night that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has failed as a leader.
Ernst and Kris “Tanto” Paronto spoke at a Muscatine County Republican fundraiser at the Wilton (Iowa) Community Center, with more than 300 people in attendance. The patriotic-themed event included a dinner, music and prayer. Many state, regional and local government representatives, along with veterans in each branch of the service, were recognized.
When she introduced Paronto, Ernst said he is a hero who “has experienced the lack of leadership from Hillary Clinton first-hand. She left him there.” The attack, which left four Americans dead, drew criticism from those who said Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, acted irresponsibly.
The Benghazi Select Committee’s investigation into Clinton’s role in the attack was one of the longest Congressional investigations in American history. After the committee investigated what prompted the attacks, Clinton’s response, and emails on her private home server, Clinton emerged relatively unscathed.
Ernst said Clinton’s “lack of leadership” cost the lives of four Americans. “Failure to lead is not an option, especially in this election,” she said.
“As I travel around the globe, our allies are asking me, ‘Where is America’s leadership?’” Ernst said. “We don’t have leadership in the White House right now.”
Ernst said that Clinton “can’t be trusted” and that she “has failed us. She does not deserve to be our president.”
Under Clinton’s watch, terrorist groups expanded, Ernst said. “She has failed to stop ISIS.
“We need to defeat ISIS,” Ernst said. “That’s what Donald Trump has promised to do.”
Paronto, who earned a standing ovation when he took the stage, echoed Ernst in saying Clinton is a failure.
Terrorists are not dumb, he said. “They will use anything at their disposal.”
He asked how they got their information, referring to the disclosure that Clinton used a private email address and server in her home during her four-year tenure as secretary of state.
In a statement to the Washington Post over the weekend, the Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said, “While her use of a single email account was clearly a mistake and she has taken responsibility for it, these materials make clear why the Justice Department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case.”
Many of those attending expressed support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Among them was Bill Condon, of Lowden, Iowa, who says he is a conservative “who believes our country is being hijacked by people who don’t really believe America is the greatest country in the world.”
He said he is a big fan of Paronto and others who survived the attacks. “The media dropped the ball” when they reported the attacks, he said. “They were not being honest and fair.”
“Compare the Abu Ghraib coverage to the Benghazi coverage,” he said. Journalists, Condon said, are “doing the narrative, going along with the national media narrative.”
People are afraid to speak up, Condon said. “Because if you are not with this narrative, you are regarded a racist and a bigot and a hater,” he said. “We can’t say the truth anymore.”
Three tables away, Mary Vogt, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, discussed her personal agenda: She spoke with other guests about her website findyourservicedog.com, a website that helps people, including veterans, find service dogs of all kinds.
Vogt’s own service dog lay quietly under the table. “This dog was supposed to be euthanized,” she said. “I said ‘No she’s not. I’m going to take her.’ “
Vogt, a retired registered nurse, wants to share her site with veterans. “Rescue a dog, and they’ll rescue you for the rest of their life,” she said.
She is committed to veterans, saying that “My family has been in every war this nation has seen …. We believe in our country, we believe in God, and we believe in freedom.”
The crowd included first-time voter Ben Hanser, of Davenport, who attended with his parents Teresa and Stacy Hanser, of Davenport.
He went along because his parents had a ticket, he said. “I actually didn’t know this was a political rally.” He came mostly to hear Paronto speak, but Hanser said he appreciates Trump’s policies.