Tempers ran high Wednesday morning at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton erupting at one point, “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?”
Clinton’s outburst elicited a dressing down from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) who told her,”The American people deserve to know answers and they certainly don’t deserve to know false answers.”
He also ‘categorically rejected’ her claim that State did not interview survivors of the attack immediately afterward because it did not want to interfere with the FBI’s investigation. “If you want to go out and tell the American people what happened, you should at least talk to the people who were there,” he said.
In the long awaited testimony, Clinton again took responsibility for the deaths of Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans who were killed that day in Benghazi, but the Secretary of State distanced herself from the Obama administration’s decision to blame the anti-Muslim YouTube video, its decision to put U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on TV in the days after the event and any knowledge of Ambassador Stevens’ request for more security in Libya.
Clinton didn’t specifically mention the video in the Senate hearing, which both U.S Ambassador to the U.N, Susan Rice and President Barack Obama blamed on separate occasions for the assault, where she told Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) that she called it a terrorist attack from the start.
“You’re right, it was a terrorist attack. I called it an attack by armed militants,” she said, adding that, “I personally was not focused on talking points, I personally was focused on keeping people safe.”
The subject of the YouTube video did come up later in the day during her testimony in front of the House’s Foreign Relation’s Committee, however. In her testimony there, an exasperated Clinton said that when the attack occurred in Libya she was busy dealing with the other attacks on U.S. embassies in the region that were “clearly related” to the video.
“I want to be clear, of course it was a terrorist attack,” she said. “The day after I called it a terrorist attack,” she reiterated.
Later in the hearing she claimed that, “I did not say it was about the video for Libya,” and said that the President called it an “act of terror” the following day. She avoided mention of the fact that Obama blamed the video for the attack two weeks later in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
In the Senate’s hearing, Clinton absolved herself of any involvement with the administration’s decision to designate Rice as it’s mouthpiece on the Sunday news morning shows just days after the attack, noting that she was not consulted on the decision. However, she backed up the administration’s selection of Rice, saying that it wasn’t unusual for someone in Rice’s position to speak on behalf of the administration on foreign relations. She also claimed that Rice was speaking “off of what had been determined as the most acceptable talking points.”
“People have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans,” she said, “Nothing could be further than the truth.”
Most of pointed questions came from Republicans on the committees, while Democrats defended Clinton’s handling of the situation and poured praise on her transparency. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) even showed her support outright for Clinton’s potential 2016 presidential run.
“You will be sorely missed, but hopefully not for long,” she said coyly of the outgoing Secretary of State. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) brought her “greetings” from their mutual friends back home and told her he wished she’d won the Democratic presidential primary in Arkansas in 2008.
McCain was not the only member to tear into Clinton over the holes in the administration’s story, though. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky). also ripped into Clinton saying, “it was a failure of leadership” for her not to look at the cables in which Ambassador Stevens requested more security. Paul said he doesn’t think she was “willfully negligent,” but if he were President and found out that she wasn’t reading the cables, “I would have relieved you of your post,” adding that the “request for these securities, really, I believe would have saved their lives.”
At the House hearing Clinton explained that she gets 1.4 million cables a year, most of which are handled by people below her.
“I have made it very clear that those security cables did not come to my attention,” she said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) angrily told Clinton he wasn’t buying her excuses, though, and accused her of “gross negligence.”
“Madame Secretary, you let the consulate become a deathtrap,” he said in one of the most terse back and forths of the day.