After months of lead-up, accusations of faking a concussion, major health scares involving cranial blot clots, her retirement from the State Department, and the potential of a 2016 presidential run, Hillary Clinton was finally able to attend the Senate hearings on the Benghazi attack and, in her fierce, inimitable manner, set a few records straight with the questioning panel.
Early in the hearing, Clinton discussed the history leading up to the attack, particularly the growing threats from extremists in the area and the shifting power dynamics that created tensions and security risks overall. Despite incendiary comments like Senator John McCain’s (“It’s been a cover-up from the beginning”), Clinton defended the State Department’s handling of the situation, speaking passionately about the reality of dealing with the chaos as it occurs and the difficulty in ascertaining facts given the rapidly-changing details and disruptions.
As Republicans grilled her on questions related to the timing of events, what was known when, and how communication was or was not transmitted during and after the attack, Clinton became noticeably frustrated by the inferences and where the priorities were being placed. In a particularly testy exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson, (R-Wis), who seemed to spin his questions to insinuate that the State Department’s mishanded of the situation, Clinton finally snapped:
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, raising her voice at Johnson, who continued to interrupt her. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? 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, Senator. […]
“Honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is, people were trying their best in real time to get to the best information,” she said, before blasting the senator’s line of questioning. “Give me a break, Senator Johnson. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” [Source]
When asked if she had seen requests prior to the attack asking for beefed-up security, Clinton asserted that she had not, which elicited a sharp rejoinder from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky):
“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.”
Given the fact that Clinton had already testified that the cables had, in fact, not come to her and, therefore, were not ignored but, rather, not available to see, approve or deny, Paul’s criticism rang hollow.
Clinton replied that her department has been more than cooperative with the independent investigation into the tragedy. She insisted to the first-term Kentucky senator that she has taken responsibility for the failures that occurred and followed up with administrative action. [Source: Raw Story]
As for Ambassador Steven’s family and their response to Clinton’s rôle, Stevens’ stepfather Bob Commanday claimed that the family has not been following the discussions about whether or not the security at the embassy was adequate. He confirmed that Clinton had been in contact with the family several times 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.” [Source]
Clinton, however, spoke eloquently about the death of Chris Stevens during the hearings, making clear that this tragedy was not about politics or cover-ups, but something very personal and painful:
“For me, this is not just a matter of policy, it’s 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, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she said, her voice breaking.
“It has been one of the great honors of my life to lead the men and women of the State Department and USAID,” she continued. “They get up and get to work every day, often in difficult dangerous circumstances, because they believe, as we believe, the United States is the most extraordinary force for peace and progress the world has ever known.” [Source]
While it seems clear (particularly considering the comments of Rand and McCain) that the GOP is attempting to make this a scandal about ineptitude and obfuscation, both General Colin Powell and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have countered that attempt bydefending both Clinton and the Obama administration in their handling of the tragedy.
Rather than dismissing or covering up concerns, a review from Clinton’s State Department on Benghazi assessed that there appeared to be a “lack of cooperation and confusion over protection in the mission in Benghazi” and went on to make 29 recommendations towards improving security, particularly at high-level posts such as the one where Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered.
See video of Clinton/Johnson exchange: