Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today on the Sep. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Clinton missed previous opportunities to testify due to a fall she sustained while recovering from the stomach flu; doctors later discovered and treated a blood clot near her brain. Her testimony will mark her last week as Secretary of State, and will likely leave many questions about the attack still unanswered.
As Secretary of State, Clinton bears formal responsibility for the security of U.S. diplomatic missions and their staff. She accepted blame for the Benghazi attack in October, though President Barack Obama later said that he bore ultimate responsibility, and had previously insisted that “ultimately, the buck stops with me” on security issues.
Since then, the Obama administration has stonewalled about the attack, refusing to provide information to support the president’s claims about the orders he gave on the night of the attack, or to explain the failure of U.S. forces in the region to provide support to security personnel on the ground as they battled terrorists.
Earlier controversy had surrounded the false claim by both Clinton and Obama that the Benghazi attack had been the result of a demonstration against an obscure anti-Islamic video made by a man in California, who was promptly jailed for violating his probation from an earlier criminal sentence.
Other demonstrations had taken place at U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East that day, likely fomented by Al Qaeda; the U.S. embassy in Cairo posted several apologetic tweets about the video, while initial statements by the Obama administration expressed similar contrition. The Benghazi attack, however, was not the action of a mob but of a well-organized and heavily-armed terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda, and was later described by the Libyan government as such.
Once the story about a demonstration in Benghazi turned out to be false, the president claimed to have referred to the attack as a terrorist attack from the start–a claim that was also false, partly disproven by contemporaneous footage withheld by CBS News until shortly before the election. The timely intervention of second presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley on President Obama’s behalf also blocked an effort by Republican challenger Mitt Romney to hold Obama accountable for the false video story.
Secretary Clinton helped perpetuate the video story, both at a memorial service for the American dead, and in an advertisement aired by the Obama administration in Pakistan, which ostensibly was meant to counter the outrage caused by the video but in effect may have increased it. She allegedly promised the father of one of the victims that the filmmaker who had supposedly provoked the violence in Benghazi would be punished.
The highlight of today’s hearing will likely be Clinton’s interrogation by Sen. Ran Paul of Kentucky, a Tea Party favorite who makes his debut today on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who has described her mishandling of the Benghazi affair–both in denying requests for more security personnel earlier in 2012, and in the attempted cover-up of the attack–a “career-ending mistake.” The scandal has already damaged the career prospects of UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was to be nominated as Clinton’s successor but withdrew after it became clear that her repeated false statements to the media about the attacks would be an obstacle.
Secretary Clinton, who is though to have designs on the 2016 presidential race, will attempt to use her testimony today to salvage her own reputation.