Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton yesterday deflected harsh Republican criticism of her handling of the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and urged her questioners in Congress to put US national security ahead of politics.
At a sometimes heated hearing, Republicans accused the front-runner in the 2016 Democratic presidential race of misinforming the public about the cause of the attack by suspected Islamic militants that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.
Republican representative Jim Jordan said Clinton had misleadingly implied the attack was a reaction to an anti-Muslim video. Clinton, who denies suggesting the video was the cause, yesterday called Jordan’s accusation “personally painful”.
“I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” she told the Republican-led panel.
“I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together. I’ve been racking my brain about what could have been done, should have been done.”
The appearance before the Benghazi panel was a major political test for Clinton, who has been on a hot streak with a strong performance in last week’s first Democratic debate and the news on Wednesday that her strongest potential challenger, vice-president Joe Biden, will not seek the Democratic nomination for the November 2016 election.
The hearing also follows weeks of political brawling over whether the House committee’s real goal was to puncture her front-running presidential prospects.
Clinton told the panel the attacks must not discourage US action globally and said the incident already had been thoroughly investigated.
“We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology,” Clinton said in her only early reference to the political controversy that has dogged the panel.
The panel has spent 17 months looking into the attacks that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans at the US mission compound.
At one point, Clinton impassively stacked papers while Republican chairman Trey Gowdy and senior Democrat Elijah Cummings argued loudly over Cummings’ request that the closed-door testimony of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal be publicly released.
Clinton listened intently, head in hand, as Gowdy heatedly questioned her about the constant emails she received from Blumenthal. Republicans noted that ambassador Stevens did not even have Clinton’s email address.
“You didn’t need my email address to get my attention,” Clinton said.
Cummings said congressional Republicans set up the panel for a partisan witch hunt.
“They set them loose, Madame Secretary, because you’re running for president,” he told Clinton, calling for an end to the “taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.” He said that the committee had spent $14.7m of taxpayer money over 17 months.
Clinton defended her leadership in Libya as America’s top diplomat and denied longstanding Republican allegations that she personally turned down requests to beef up security in Benghazi.
Republican representative Peter Roskam told Clinton she was the chief architect of U.S policy in Libya and that “things in Libya today are a disaster,” but Clinton said US president Barack Obama made the final call on US Libya policy.
Clinton’s long-awaited appearance before the panel follows months of controversy about her use of a private home email server for her State Department work, a set-up that emerged in part because of the Benghazi committee’s demand last year to see her official records.
A 2012 report by a government accountability review board sharply faulted State Department officials for providing “grossly” insufficient security in Benghazi, despite upgrade requests from Stevens and others in Libya.
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