Hillary Clinton confronts critics over Benghazi

Former secretary of state testifies before Republican-led committee on 2012 attacks

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton defended her handling of the security at the US diplomatic outpost in the Libyan city of Benghazi where four Americans were killed in attacks on September 11th, 2012, telling a US congressional committee: “I took responsibility”

In her long-anticipated appearance before a Republican-led House of Representatives panel investigating the attacks, Mrs Clinton faced often aggressive questioning over Benghazi, an episode which her opponents have seen for years as a weak spot in the Clinton armoury.

Her testimony came at a critical time for the Democratic presidential favourite, three months before the first nominating contest in the 2016 election and a day after Vice President Joe Biden decided not to run, giving her the upper hand in the race for the White House.

Mrs Clinton touched on the political motives behind the 17-month investigation, which second-ranking House Republican Kevin McCarthy last month said was set up to damage her campaign.

“Despite all the previous investigations and all the talk about partisan agendas, I’m here to honour those we lost,” she said.

Republican members quizzed Mrs Clinton on her awareness of the increasingly dangerous situation in Libya in 2011 and 2012.

“Why were there so many requests for security equipment and personnel, and why were those requests denied in Washington?” the committee’s chairman, Republican Trey Gowdy, asked.

The Democratic presidential frontrunner said the US had not received any credible threat in advance of the attack against the Benghazi outpost and that requests for additional security at the compound from slain ambassador Chris Stevens did not pass her desk but went to “security professionals” at the State Department.

“I did not see them. I did not approve them. I did not deny them,” she said.

Despite Mr Gowdy saying that the inquiry was not about Mrs Clinton or her emails, her correspondence was the subject of repeated questioning during the day-long hearing.

He described her use of a personal email server for official business as secretary of state - a fact first uncovered by the committee last year - as “an unusual email arrangement.”

Pointing to two different sized stacks of emails, Republican Susan Brooks said the smaller volume of her emails in which Benghazi was mentioned in 2012 showed her “lack of interest” in Libya that year.

“I did not conduct most of the business I did on behalf of our country on emails,” she said.

Mrs Clinton said that most of her work was conducted in person, in meetings and in phone calls. “I didn’t have a computer,” she added.

Asked about emails with her long-time friend Sidney Blumenthal, Mrs Clinton grew frustrated at questioning by Mr Gowdy.

“I don’t know what this line of questioning does to help us get to the bottom of the deaths of four Americans,” she said.

Mrs Clinton handled questions about Benghazi deftly, failing to let Republicans land any significant blows or tie her to any wrongdoing.

She showed a rare moment of emotion, telling the committee that it was “very personally painful” to hear accusations that she did not do everything she could to protect her friend, Ambassador Stevens.

“I would imagine I have thought more about what happened than all of you put together. I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together,” she said.

The hottest exchanges about the partisan nature of the committee’s inquiry came between Democrats and Republicans members.

Democrat Elijah Cummings painted the investigation as a political witch-hunt, saying that it was “time for Republicans to end this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.”

The hearing descended into chaos before the lunchtime break as Mr Cummings clashed with Mr Gowdy over Mr Blumenthal’s email and the release of his private testimony to the committee.

Ahead of the cross-party pitch-battle, Mrs Clinton turned her opening statement to the inquisitorial panel to parade her achievements as secretary of state when she worked with Republicans.

In the high-profile spotlight coming on her at an important point in her presidential campaign, Mrs Clinton urged the committee “to rise above partisanship and to reach for statesmanship.”

Noting the risks of sending diplomats like Mr Stevens into trouble spots, she said that “American must lead in a dangerous world.”