Excerpt of hearing: Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., questions Secretary Clinton.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning that got testy at times, outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took responsibility for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and said lessons would be learned and steps taken to improve security. She testified again before the House in the afternoon.
“I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure,” she said in her opening statement.
A group of heavily armed militants fired upon the consulate in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, killing four Americans including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
At first the administration said the attack stemmed from a protest over an anti-Muslim film that was roiling the region, but later determined it was a premeditated attack by militants.
After a review, the State Department’s Accountability Review Board determined that security at the site was “grossly inadequate” and that prior calls from the consulate to implement more safety measures largely went unheeded.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked Clinton about the administration’s changing explanation for the Sept. 11 assault. “The American people could have known [the real reason] within days, and they didn’t know that,” he said.
Clinton responded: “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 and decided they’d go 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.”
Clinton also sprang to the defense of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who was the target of criticism for saying in the days following the attack that the deaths were due to a spontaneous protest.
“I just want to say that people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans. I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth,” Clinton said.
At another point in the hearing, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said two weeks after the incident President Obama still did not acknowledge it was an act of terrorism. “People don’t bring RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and mortars to spontaneous demonstrations. That’s a fundamental,” McCain said.
Clinton said it took time to establish the sequence of events with the help of on-site surveillance cameras and by talking to the agents who were there.
View their exchange:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said if he were president at the time and learned Clinton did not read the communications from Benghazi requesting more assistance, “I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable.” He added that he didn’t think she was willfully negligent, but it was a failure of leadership and was good that she was accepting responsibility:
Read the full transcript of the Senate hearing from the Federal News Service:
Watch the full House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, where Clinton continued her testimony on Benghazi.
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