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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Clinton Benghazi Testimony Is Fierce, Emotional

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at times emotional and fierce, insisted on Wednesday that the department is moving swiftly and aggressively to strengthen security at U.S. missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the consulate in Libya.

In her last formal congressional testimony on Capitol Hill as America’s top diplomat, Clinton once again took full responsibility for the department’s missteps leading up to assault at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Her voice cracking at one point, Clinton said the experience was highly personal.

“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a jam-packed hearing.

Her voice rising at another point, she defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was vilified for widely debunked claims five days after the attack that protests precipitated the raid rather than terrorism. She challenged the GOP focus on Rice’s comments, which were based on intelligence talking points.

“The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” a clearly exasperated and angry Clinton told Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

She insisted that “people were trying in real time to get to the best information,” and that her focus was on looking ahead on how to improve security rather than revisiting the talking points and Rice’s television appearance.

Clinton said the department is implementing the 29 recommendations of an independent review board that harshly criticized the department as well as going above and beyond the proposals, with a special focus on high-threat posts.

The review board report faulted “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department” and four employees were put on administrative leave.

“Nobody is more committed to getting this right,” she said. “I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.”

Three weeks after her release from a New York hospital, Clinton was at times defiant, complimentary and willing to chastise lawmakers. She will appear before the committee on Thursday to introduce her likely successor, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Clinton refused to back down from withering GOP criticism of the Obama administration’s shifting explanations about the assault.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Clinton friend in the Senate, offered praise along with harsh complaints.

“It’s wonderful to see you in good health and combative as ever,” McCain told a visibly slimmer Clinton, whose planned testimony last month was delayed because of her illness.

In the same breath, he dismissed her explanation of events, the administration’s response to warnings about the deteriorating security situation in Libya and even the attention paid to Libya after rebels toppled strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

For her part, Clinton complained about the congressional holds placed on foreign aid and bilateral assistance. “We have to get our act together,” she told the panel.

Her testimony focused not only on the attack but the growing threat from extremists in northern Africa, pointing out that Libya was not an isolated incident.

“The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region,” she said. “And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria.”

She said the Obama administration is pressing for a greater understanding of the hostage-taking there and rescue effort that left three Americans dead.

Clinton parried tough questions from Republicans, offering a detailed timeline of events on Sept. 11 and the Obama administration efforts to aid the Americans in Libya while simultaneously dealing with protests in Cairo and other countries.

GOP lawmakers repeatedly questioned Clinton about whether she had seen earlier requests for beefed-up security.

“I did not see these requests. They did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them,” she said.

That provoked a testy response from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential presidential candidate in 2016. He excoriated Clinton and expressed disbelief that she hadn’t read the cables about security concerns.

“Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post,” Paul told Clinton. “I think it’s inexcusable.

Clinton took Republicans to task, chiding House GOP members for recently stripping $1 billion in security aid from the hurricane relief bill and the Senate panel for failing for years to produce an authorization bill.

In northern California, Stevens’ stepfather, Bob Commanday, said the family has avoided discussions of whether security was adequate. He said Clinton had been in contact with the family on several occasions since the attack.

“We’re very aware of her sympathy because of our contact with her and the way she has connected with us and written to us,” he said. “It’s a tragedy and nothing that is said or done can bring him back, so we are just going on with life.”

In something of a valedictory, Clinton noted her robust itinerary in four years and her work, nearly 1 million miles and 112 countries.

“My faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words “United States of America” touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world’s indispensable nation. And I am confident that, with your help, we will continue to keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional.”

Clinton was the sole witness at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panels on the September raid.

Clinton had been scheduled to testify before Congress last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain forced her to postpone her appearance.

Absent from the hearing was Kerry, the man tapped to succeed Clinton. His swift Senate confirmation is widely expected, with his confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman, presided over the hearing.

Clinton’s testimony was focusing on the Libya attack after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation there and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.

Guests:

  • Anne Gearan, diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post. She tweets @agearan.
  • Rick Klein, senior Washington editor for ABC World News and co-host of the the network’s political webcast, “Top Line.” He tweets @rickklein.

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  • J Frog

    Wondering if these hearings totally debunk (once and for all) the story that the Benghazi attack was all about a Youtube video as put forth by a NY Times reporter in an interview on H&N? (during the heat of the election)

    http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/10/16/libya-attack-dispute

    What’s the opposite of a Pulitzer prize?  Shouldn’t this have gotten one of the 2012 Factcheck awards?

    • Robin Y

      Hello Mr Frog! As I remember, even his latest reports said that some of the people interviewed by the New York Times stringer at the compound that night said they were told to go there because of the video, but the people who roused them  were militants. He then went and interviewed the militant behind it.

      Of course, the government should not be relying on New York Times reports.

      Always good to hear from you
      Best
      Robin
         

      • aknman49

        The phrase “the government should not be relying on the New York Times” immediately brings to mind the classic example of Incestuous Amplification (look it up).

        For those who don’t remember:
        On 8 September 2002, VP Dick Cheney quoted a New York Times piece (co-written by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller) about aluminum tubes and Saddam Hussein as part of justification of the Bush push for an invasion of Iraq over WMD’s.

        The NYT article was based on information “leaked” to them by Cheney.  

        • RCYoung

          And didn’t Condoleeza Rice further the loop by quoting the
          “mushroom cloud” threat in the article, that had been leaked.

           I still think in re: Benghazi everything might be true. Militants who heard about the video protest in Cairo rallied people to help carry out their planned attack.

          Anyway, carry on! 

          R  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

       Well, since that particular NY Times reporter was one of the very few people to actually interview some of the witnesses, or even be in the local area of the attack in the immediate aftermath, perhaps we should listen to him?

  • charles

    How ironic that the GOP is championing the case of “we should have anticipated the violent attack” on the Consulate in Benghazi.  This is the party that’s all about protecting gun rights because, as in cases like Aurora or Newtown, there’s no way we can anticipate violent attacks.

    The laughable implication is that the U.S. government should know more about possible attacks in barely-governed Libya than just a couple hundred miles from our national Capitol.

  • Xiao3

    On the radio program, both went on about how memorable HIllary’s testimony was but instead played only John McCane’s very long questioning and Dirk’s comments – interesting reporting style…

  • Ed

    GOP congresspersons need continue to miss what’s really important at this time in history and to do the serious job of governing.  They posture over four dead Americans in Libya, when not that many years ago GW Bush wouldn’t allow photograhs of the caskets of hundreds (thousands?) of American soldiers returning to this country from Iraq/Afghanistan wars.  Where were they then?

    • aknman49

      Where were they then? 
      The same place they were when it came to deficit spending for war:  Republican La-La-Land.
      Under a Republican president, spending hundreds of billions of borrowed money for Iraq and Afghan was okay.  Running up the debt (“deficits don’t matter”) was okay.  Raising the national debt limit without blinking was okay.

      Now that we have a Democratic President, well, not so much. 

  • Samuel Green

    I love me some Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi as a matter of fact!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000884786 Navin R Johnson

    I am just sick and tired of this type of behavior by the Republicans in congress.   That freshman Senator from Wisconsin sure got taken to the woodshed by Mrs. Clinton.  Now he is accusing her of intentionally crying for emotional effect. 

    Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to criticize anyone for crying in public while Boehner is in office, give me a break!

  • Westcoastintelligence

    why “emotional”. why not simply “fierce”. the patronizing is endless, exhausting, and a generation past enough.

  • Mjas5150

    Her title is “Honorable.”  What a farce.  Is it honorable to essentially leave those heroes out there on their own?  

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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