Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton faced a barrage of questions Thursday from Republicans over her handling of a deadly 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, the frontrunner among Democrats seeking the left-leaning party’s 2016 presidential nomination, defended her record, saying she agreed to testify “to honour those we lost and do what I can to aid those who serve us still.”
Clinton was the sole witness before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in an all-day hearing.
The September 11, 2012, attack killed four Americans, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Seven other probes have looked into aspects of the attack, including an Accountability Review Board, which made numerous reform suggestions that already have been implemented.
Democrats say all questions about the attack have been answered in those investigations and allege that the latest hearings are politically motivated to damage Clinton’s presidential bid.
Republican committee chairman Trey Gowdy denied those charges, insisting the focus is justice for the four dead Americans.
“We owe them and each other the truth,” Gowdy said.
“Questions linger” because the previous investigations were narrower in scope “and either incapable or unwilling to access the facts and evidence necessary to answer all relevant questions,” he said.
During the hearing, Republicans on the committee accused Clinton of failing to act on requests for stepped up security in Benghazi prior to the attack.
Clinton said the requests were not made to her, but to officials responsible for diplomatic security. She said some of Stevens’ security requests were approved and accepted no blame for the ones that were denied.
Committee members raised questions about Clinton’s communications with close friend Sidney Blumenthal. Some members said she paid more attention to his emails than pleas from Benghazi for more security.
Republicans questioned why Blumenthal, who was on the payroll of the Clinton Foundation, a charity set up by Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, enjoyed “frequent and direct communication” with her, while she had not one email exchange with the imperilled Stevens.
During the exchange Clinton was forced to admit that Stevens did not have her personal email address, and later said he did not have her personal cell phone number. But the ambassador had a direct line to the State Department and could have reached her at any time, Clinton said.
Clinton insisted Blumenthal was not an adviser or a primary source of information on Libya. Occasionally, she said she forwarded his messages to other people so that they were “in the mix,” she said.
Clinton remained calm throughout the questioning. In 2013, she raised her voice and waved her hands in apparent exasperation during congressional testimony, when pressed on specifics of how the four Americans died, asking: “What difference at this point does it make?”
On Thursday, she frequently held her chin in her hand while looking dubiously at members of the committee.
Democrats on the committee complained bitterly about the nature of the questioning, which they said was political.
“We have learned nothing substantively new about what happened in Benghazi,” Representative Adam Smith said.
He told Clinton: “The purpose of this committee is to prosecute you.”
The committee, which started its work 17 months ago, has spent 4.7 million dollars in on the probe, according to Democrats.
The committee’s investigation exposed Clinton’s exclusive use of private email for official business while she was secretary of state, which has become a liability in her presidential campaign.
During the questioning, Clinton answered several questions about the situation at the State Department the night of the attack, which US officials initially characterized as a mob from a spontaneous anti-American protest.
One committee member accused her of telling the American people that the killings stemmed from a protest and only minutes later emailing members of her family and the prime minister of Egypt calling the attack an act of terrorism.
She explained that events unfolded rapidly, and officials at the State Department were operating in “the fog of war” as they tried to determine the situation on the ground.
“I would imagine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” Clinton said. “I’ve lost more sleep [over it] than all of you put together. I have been wracking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done.”