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Clinton defends actions before, during Benghazi attack

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 09:36 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2013


WASHINGTON » Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at times emotional and fierce, insisted today 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 testimony on Capitol Hill as America's top diplomat — but perhaps not her last time on the political stage — Clinton once again took full responsibility for the department's missteps leading up to an 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 to Republicans' challenges at another point, she defended the Obama administration and 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 tangled with some who could be rivals in 2016 if she decides to seek the presidency again.

She will appear before the committee on Thursday to introduce her likely successor, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a session certain to be more reserved.

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. She 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. 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.

Politics play an outsized role in any appearance by Clinton, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and is the subject of constant speculation about a possible bid in 2016. The former first lady and New York senator — a polarizing figure dogged by controversy — is about to end her four-year tenure at the State Department with high favorable ratings.

A poll early last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65 percent of Americans held a favorable impression of Clinton, compared with 29 percent unfavorable.

On the panel at the hearing were two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates — Florida's Marco Rubio and Paul, a new member of the committee.

Clinton did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work at the State Department after her illness. On the subject of retirement, she said, "I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while."

Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Andrew Miga in Washington, and Garance Burke in San Francisco contributed to this report.







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serious wrote:
Just like her husband when the embassies were attacked during his watch!!! Same old stuff. A disgrace!!
on January 23,2013 | 06:37AM
hapaguy wrote:
No more like Bush when the twin towers were attacked on his watch. A disgrace!
on January 23,2013 | 07:19AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Bush did something, Obama did not.
on January 23,2013 | 08:25AM
hapaguy wrote:
Excuse me but what did Bush do to prevent the attacks that happened on his watch on 9/11?
on January 23,2013 | 10:25AM
false wrote:
Thank you.
on January 23,2013 | 11:15AM
hawaiikone wrote:
see below
on January 23,2013 | 06:49PM
kahuku01 wrote:
hawaiikone: Refresh my memory as to what did Bush do? As I recall, Obama hunted Bin Laden down and had him wiped out from the face of this earth. As Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "what difference at this point does it make?" "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again." This whole thing about these senators pointing fingers and trying to prove who is right or wrong is like a bunch of kids on the playground needing some attention. They're just wasting the taxpayers money and I'm sure there is a lot more issues that are pressing for congress to work and vote on.
on January 23,2013 | 10:38AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
kahuku01: Keep bending over the for lying do nothing Liberal agenda. As for Bin Laden, I give credit to the Special Forces before and after the killing and not the empty suit fraudulent POTHUS.
on January 23,2013 | 01:16PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Just for you and your friends above. We're talking about what was done after 9/11 and after Benghazi. Although years of warnings to Clinton and Bush were ignored, which is on both of them, after 9/11 Bush rallied a nation. What did Obama do after Benghazi? Within hours of the attack it was known who was responsible, yet for weeks we were led to blame a film maker. To think that Barry had no idea of this is ridiculous. Months later it's easy to say "What's the difference?", but what's happened here is a manipulation of information for reasons we still don't know. Love that "hunted Bin Laden down" thing to.
on January 23,2013 | 05:38PM
LKK56 wrote:
How about Iraq and no WMDs?
on January 23,2013 | 06:57AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Memory jogger: The Clinton administration had ALSO concluded that Iraq was attempting to restart its WMD programs AND advocated for overthrow of Hussein. Another point, there is absolutely no dispute that, prior to the first gulf war, Iraq was well on its way to producing a nuclear weapon and that, after the war, they still retained the capability and expertise to do so.
on January 23,2013 | 08:27AM
toomuchpilikia wrote:
If you recall the UN was restricted from searching in some areas of concern....I wonder why? There was ample time to move all WMD's! Two years to be exact!
on January 23,2013 | 09:50AM
Paco3185 wrote:
Touch guilt and get hostility - happens everytime. And yes the republicans speak with forked tongue but that was then and this is now. If we allow this to be ignored it will happen again and again. If all the folks in Washington are as smart as they say then they can do a lot better than this.
on January 23,2013 | 07:09AM
Wazdat wrote:
Seems we have heard more about this than WHY we invaded IRAQ for NO REASON but lies.
on January 23,2013 | 07:31AM
kahu808 wrote:
Indeed, 4 deaths v 4,000.
on January 23,2013 | 07:55AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Another lib strategy, shift the focus...
on January 23,2013 | 08:26AM
Pacej001 wrote:
State the lie. Prove it. Two Senate Select Intelligence committees, one controlled by the Democrats could not prove, could not find evidence of the Bush administration lying about their belief that Iraq had restarted their WMD program. Badly, incompetently mistaken? Yes. Lying us into war. NO. Having spent seven years in the DC environment, if that proof of a lie was there, the political barracudas in that town would have forced it into the public view. Finally, you forget the 9/11 commission that investigated the entire matter of 9/11 failures of leadership and intelligence in the Bush administration. ---- So, your statement represents a liberal blind spot in that you're willing to ignore reasonable request for information as to why a BS story on Benghazi was pushed, why the ambassador had inadequate security, and what the White House did or didn't do to intervene. All reasonable questions and all being stonewalled by the State Dept. and Obama.
on January 23,2013 | 08:37AM
toomuchpilikia wrote:
Let's not forget the invasion was not by Executive Order! It was votet for...
on January 23,2013 | 09:50AM
dhclinton wrote:
little late sweetheart....americans are dead
on January 23,2013 | 07:47AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Hard to believe in the wake of 9-11 that protection and security of ambassadors and embassies weren't strengthened particularly in the Middle East. Anyways the hearing are moot since Clinton and her deputies are on their way out. The killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens might have been prevented.
on January 23,2013 | 08:03AM
csdhawaii wrote:
The killing of almost 3,000 individuals in 9-11, over 4,000 soldiers in the Iraq war and countless civilians of the countries we are occupying could also have been prevented.
on January 23,2013 | 12:18PM
thepartyfirst wrote:
NO. The Powers that be wanted it to happen. No not the US Government.
on January 23,2013 | 01:26PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
The issue at hand is the Benghazi attack...please don't change the subject.
on January 23,2013 | 07:47PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
The fact that she did not get her job renewed, whether by choice or not, speaks volumes.
on January 23,2013 | 09:48AM
toomuchpilikia wrote:
This was indeed a derelection of duty...Jail time will suffice!
on January 23,2013 | 09:52AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Or maybe she's just taking one for the team. Having the known facts withheld from the voting public right before an election seems awfully convenient. Recounting the budget constraints focuses attention away from the timeline of delayed and erroneous information, which Barry's alleged ignorance of seems questionable at best.
on January 23,2013 | 10:22AM
hapaguy wrote:
I am continually surprised by the outrage vented at Obama, then Rice, and now Hillary Clinton by the right with regards to this Benghazi attack. I have one question for you righties: where was your outrage at Bush for doing nothing to prevent the 9/11 attacks that happened on his watch?
on January 23,2013 | 10:31AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Throwing up comments about 9/11 smokescreens the actual question. Bush and Clinton were warned, often, yet both failed to act. Old news, and nothing to do with the discussion. Whether Benghazi could have been prevented is only speculation, and not even being challenged. What is in question is why Barry allowed the nation to blame a movie for causing the attack rather than placing it on the terrorist group responsible. I'm surprised the left isn't curious as well.
on January 23,2013 | 05:56PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Oh, the Benghazi hearing....so that's what it was. Sounded more like the Elect Hillary in 2016 hearing.
on January 23,2013 | 11:17AM
ichiban wrote:
Another cover-up. This is H. Clinton's albatross, doubt is she'll run for public office again. Of course the al-Qaida militants carried out the attack killing several Americans in Benghazi using weapons supplied by the rebels who were covertly supported by the American military. Timeline--Sept. 11,2012, American Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi was attacked. On or about Oct. 20, 2012 Libya's strongman Muammar Gaddafi was killed. On Sept. 14, people directly related to the attack were questioned, but later when interviewed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, they gave conflicting testimony. Bottom line; Kill Gaddafi. To do this the rebels against Gaddafi had to be properly armed. Enter US arms dealers. The rebels also had al-Qaida militants within their ranks. The Benghazi attack was for retribution against the US.
on January 23,2013 | 11:44AM
burymeagain wrote:
Rand Paul, pppfffff!
on January 23,2013 | 12:43PM
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