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Did we learn anything new from Clinton’s Benghazi testimony?

House Republicans grilled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya. Political director Lisa Desjardins recaps the sometimes tense and emotional hearing. Judy Woodruff gets reaction from Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy and Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Hillary Clinton returned to Capitol Hill today to defend her actions as secretary of state during the 2012 attack on a diplomatic outpost in Libya.

    The Republican-led Select Committee on Benghazi is investigating the attack on a U.S. Consulate, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the contentious hearing.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    It was a full-blown Capitol Hill spectacle, with one of the longest lines in recent years, and reporters crushing forward to try to get inside.

    Republican Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy began by defending the Benghazi investigation.

    REP. TREY GOWDY (R), South Carolina: Madam Secretary, not a single member of this committee signed up to investigate you or your e-mail. We signed up to investigate, and therefore honor, the lives of four people that we sent into a dangerous country to represent us, and to do everything we can to prevent it from happening to others.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in turn started with a slow, deliberate tone.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    As secretary of state, I had the honor to lead and the responsibility to support nearly 70,000 diplomats and development experts across the globe.

    Losing any one of them, as we did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Haiti, and Libya, during my tenure was deeply painful for our entire State Department and USAID family and for me personally. I traveled to 112 countries as secretary of state. Every time I did, I felt great pride and honor representing the country that I love.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Soon, though, Republican Susan Brooks of Indiana launched what would become a theme: Was Clinton paying enough attention to Benghazi? Brooks pointed to a small stack of Clinton's Benghazi e-mails the year of the attack, 2012, and a larger one from the year before.

    REP. SUSAN BROOKS (R), Indiana: There are 795 e-mails in this pile. We have counted them. There's 67 e-mails in this pile in 2012.

    And I'm troubled by what I see here. In this pile in 2011, I see daily updates, sometimes hourly updates from your staff about Benghazi and Chris Stevens.

    When I look at this pile in 2012, I only see a handful of e-mails to you from your senior staff about Benghazi. And let me just share for you in your records that we have reviewed, there is not one e-mail to you or from you in 2012 when an explosive device went off at our compound in April.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    Well, Congresswoman, I didn't conduct most of the business that I did on behalf of our country on e-mail. I conducted it in meetings.

    I read massive amounts of memos, a great deal of classified information. I made a lot of secure phone calls. I was in and out of the White House all the time. There were a lot of things that happened that I was aware of and that I was reacting to.

    If you were to be in my office in the State Department, I didn't have a computer. I didn't do the vast majority of my work on e-mail.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    But another Republican, Georgia's Lynn Westmoreland, wasn't satisfied with Clinton's defense.

    REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND (R), Georgia: You knew about these two incidents that have been mentioned previously. It's not a matter if you knew about them. It's a matter of what you did about them. And, to us, the answer to that is nothing.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    The experts, who I have the greatest confidence in, and who have been through so many difficult positions, because practically all of them had rotated through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, other places, they were the ones making the assessment. No one ever came to me and said, we should shut down our compound in Benghazi.

  • REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND:

    I'm not saying I'm not saying shut it down. I'm just saying protect it.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    Right.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio pushed on whether Clinton knew the attack was planned by terrorists, but still allowed official U.S. statements to claim it was a spontaneous anti-American mob.

    REP. JIM JORDAN (R), Ohio: Why didn't you just speak plain to the American people?

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    I did state clearly and I said it again in more detail the next morning, as did the president. I'm sorry that it doesn't fit your narrative, Congressman. I can only tell you what the facts were.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Clinton's fellow Democrats sounded their own theme, arguing that she's the victim of a partisan political witch-hunt.

    REP. ADAM SMITH (D), Washington: Even today's hearing, not a single solitary thing that hasn't already been discussed repeatedly. So we have learned absolutely nothing. The question is, have we found anything substantively that tells us something different about what happened in Benghazi? And the answer to that question is no.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The partisan tension bubbled over, as Republicans repeatedly asked about e-mails about Libya from longtime Clinton friend and previous committee witness Sidney Blumenthal.

    REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), Maryland: Will the gentleman yield? Will the gentleman yield?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings broke in to accuse Chairman Gowdy of distorting information.

  • REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS:

    These facts directly contradict the statements you made on national television this past Sunday.

  • REP. TREY GOWDY:

    No, that's — no, sir, with all due respect, they do not. With that, we're adjourned.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    In the end, this longest hearing yet on the Benghazi attacks may not have done much to satisfy either party. The committee aims to finish its investigation by January.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    At this moment, that hearing is still going on.

    And we take a closer look, though, at the day's events so far with Anne Gearan, national correspondent with The Washington Post, and Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of "Foreign Policy" magazine. I spoke with them just a short time ago.

    And, Anne Gearan, Yochi Dreazen, thank you both for being here.

    You both have covered this story, this Benghazi story, for so long.

    So, Yochi, listening to today, what is it that this special committee was trying to do?

  • YOCHI DREAZEN, Foreign Policy:

    Genuinely, I think there was some truth to what Kevin McCarthy said, the old joke about how a gaffe in Washington is when you actually tell the truth.

    And he lost his speakership, arguably, by saying that this committee was trying to damage Hillary Clinton politically. And if you were watching the hearing today, you're not hearing anything new. These questions have been asked again and again. The answers were given again and again.

    Basically, what you saw almost from the beginning were Democrats and Republicans literally yelling at each other. This wasn't like an august hearing designed to try to get down to something we didn't know. This was politics, pure and simple.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Anne Gearan, though, was the committee, though, trying to make it — trying to make the point that Hillary Clinton was responsible for the decision that left this outpost in Libya unprotected, and that led to the death of the ambassador and three others?

  • ANNE GEARAN, The Washington Post:

    Yes, absolutely.

    I mean, the Republicans went at it several different ways, but their basic goal in that line of questioning was to try to establish a link between Hillary Clinton as the secretary of state and decisions that were made in the bureaucracy that either could have contributed or could have ameliorated what happened in Benghazi.

    And, again, as Yochi said, this is something that has been explored really ad nauseam before, and her answer was really pretty simple, which is, look, I was the secretary of state. I wasn't going to be down in the weeds of a lot of these security decisions, and I wouldn't presume to tell professionals whose job it is to make those decisions exactly how to do their jobs.

    And she really tried to turn the table on Republicans in a couple of places, including by pointing out that it's the same diplomatic security agents who protect them when they are overseas on CODEL trips and that — making the point sort of, you know, subtly that, like, hey, would you want somebody else telling them what to do?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, Yochi Dreazen, did we learn anything more about how she made — how those decisions were made and her role in what finally happened?

  • YOCHI DREAZEN:

    I think the most interesting moment by far was when Congressman Jim Jordan was saying to her, in some detail, that you, Secretary Clinton, told your family in one e-mail that this was an attack linked by al-Qaida, that you said in a phone call with an Egyptian leader that this was not something tied to an anti-Muslim video, and then saying, but the talking points coming out of the White House at the time were, this wasn't al-Qaida and this was linked to this video.

    I thought that was the most effective and sort of new moment in the entire line of questioning. And her answer back wasn't terribly strong. Her answer back was, they were still sifting intelligence. We were trying to sort our way through it. But she couldn't quite give the direct answer why she was saying in an e-mail something very different than what was being said publicly.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, for the audience, why does it matter? Why did that — why does it matter whether she was saying one thing? Because she tried to say, well, I was trying to warn other countries. We didn't want to see this thing happening anyplace else.

  • YOCHI DREAZEN:

    So, the Republican charges basically are two parts.

    One is, she ignored security, so, substantively, she could have done more to make the compound safer, and then much more damaging from their point of view is that the White House basically lied. They're saying the White House knew one thing, for political reasons, they said something else, and there's a cover-up, and she was a major part of that cover-up.

    That's basically what they have been trying to say now for three years, that she deliberately misstated what she knew to be the cause of the attack, and these e-mails were their best attempt today to try to make that point again.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Anne Gearan, you know, the Hillary Clinton campaign right now, they obviously had some worry going into this hearing. What was their strategy?

  • ANNE GEARAN:

    Well, yes, there was some concern. Benghazi remains the largest black mark on her time as secretary of state, and her time as secretary of state is one of her main resume points in seeking the 2016 presidential.

    So, for sure, this is a big hurdle they had to get over. Her campaign is chiefly concerned that there might be some moment where, you know, who knows, maybe the Republicans do have some ace in the hole they could pull out and surprise her with, something that she wouldn't be able to answer.

    Failing that, there's a general concern that there could be some replay of the kind of emotional display she had the last time she answered questions about Benghazi on Capitol Hill, when she famously waved her arms and said, what difference at this point does it make?

    She made the point that she was making back then today a couple of times, but in a much more nuanced way, and that point basically is that it doesn't matter in terms of what happened in the death of four people whether this was a premeditated terrorist attack or a spontaneous event that grew out of a street protest.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • ANNE GEARAN:

    And that's the crux of the issue about whether the White House was covering up the true origins of the attack.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Yochi Dreazen, what comes out of this? Where does this lead? I mean, after she has testified, the committee goes on. What do they do with this information?

  • YOCHI DREAZEN:

    So, some of the numbers just on the hearings, it's astounding. This is the 21st hearing on Benghazi. By comparison, there were 22 public hearings on 9/11.

    So, just to compare the two, 22 on 9/11, 21 on Benghazi. The investigations are thought to have cost about $5 million. This has been going on now 17 months. It's not clear to me or I think to really any observer what is new that could still be found.

    They have already pulled out that there are things said publicly different from what were said privately, that there were security failures. That has all been out for quite some time. But there was one moment that I thought was very interesting. She said back at one point to them that the response to this shouldn't be that Washington decides, Democrat or Republican, that diplomacy is too dangerous, that it shouldn't be something where America pulls out of dangerous places because of attacks like this.

    And I think that, ultimately, in some ways, is the danger. Set aside the politics, and if America decides we will not send diplomats into dangerous places, that's the lasting impact of Benghazi.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, as we speak, the hearing is still going on. And we will continue to look at it.

    For now, though, we want to thank you both, Yochi Dreazen and Anne Gearan. We appreciate it.

  • YOCHI DREAZEN:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • ANNE GEARAN:

    Thank you.

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