Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to answer questions about the security failures at the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
During her opening remarks to the committee, Clinton made it clear that the State Department was looking for those responsible behind the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, but made no mention of the online anti-Muslim video she, President Barack Obama, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice initially blamed immediately following the September 11th attack.
When asked by Senator Jim Risch (R -ID) if she chose U.N. Ambassador Rice to go on to five Sunday shows and blame the terrorist attack on an online anti-Muslim video, she responded:
No. I did not Senator. And let me take this opportunity to address it. Because, obviously, even though I haven’t had a chance to testify, we have seen the resulting debate and concerns about this.
She continued, “I called it a terrorist attack by heavily armed militants and that is clearly what happened. We know that. Second, the harder question is what caused it and that we didn’t… We didn’t know who the attackers were–what their motives were.”
Clinton stressed to the committee that “it was a terrorist attack” but that the administration didn’t know what the “motives” were of the terrorists. “I was not focused on talking points,” she said. “I was pretty occupied. I really don’t think anybody was focused on that. I really wasn’t involved in the talking points process.”
Senator Ron Johnson (R – WI) criticized Secretary Clinton for not directing the State Department to ask those who survived the attack in Benghazi about whether or not there were protests at the diplomatic mission. Clinton revealed that a DSA agent who was evacuated from Benghazi is still recovering at Walter Reed Hospital. Clinton estimated 25 to 30 survivors were evacuated from the consulate in Benghazi after the attack.
“I think a simple phone call to these individuals could have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. This attack started at 9:40 PM Benghazi time and it was an assault,” said Senator Johnson. “I’m going back to Ambassador Rice, who five days later is going to Sunday shows doing, what I would say purposely misleading the American public. Why was that not known?” he asked Clinton.
First of all, once the assault happened, and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern, the number one, was taking care of their injuries. I still have a DSA agent in Walter Reed who is seriously injured.
[We were] getting them into Frankfort and Ramstein and getting them taken care of–and the FBI immediately going over there and talking to them. We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interview. And we did not, and I think this is accurate sir, I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.
Following the Senate hearing, Clinton will face the House Foreign Affairs Committee.