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Clinton Takes Responsibility In Benghazi Attack, Clashes With Republicans

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UPDATE: In a hearing marked by sometimes sharp and pointed exchanges, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she took responsibility for not adequately protecting U.S. personnel in the Sept. 11 attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Defending the administration's immediate handling of the attack, Clinton clashed at times with Republicans over the account the administration gave in the initial days after Sept. 11.

Clinton said the Obama administration did not try to mislead the American people about the cause of the attacks. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she said as she sparred with Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Wisc.

She angrily told Johnson that at this stage it did not really matter what the precise origins or motives of the attack were: "What difference at this point does it make?"

She told Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, "we did not have a clear picture" of all that was going on in Benghazi although she did acknowledge that senators had "legitimate questions" about the administration's account.

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., -- after telling Clinton "we are proud of you" and that all over the world "you are viewed with admiration and respect" -- delivered a blistering criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the events in Libya.

"There are many questions that are unanswered and the answers you've given this morning are frankly not satisfactory to me," McCain told Clinton. He added "the American people and the families of these four brave Americans still haven't gotten the answers they deserve."

He asked Clinton whether she was aware of numerous warnings from Stevens and other Americans in Libya that the facility in Benghazi was not capable of resisting a sustained assault. He also said there had been other warning signs such as an attack on the British ambassador to Libya.

He angrily asked Clinton why Defense Department forces were not nearby to defend the Benghazi facility.

Last month a report issued by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) appointed by Clinton, blamed State Department officials for "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" that led to protection for the Benghazi facility that was "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

In her response to McCain, Clinton said, as she did to other senators on the panel, that some additional information on the causes and circumstances of the attack is in the classified portions of the report issued by the ARB. Senators and Senate staff can read the classified portions of the ARB report, but the public cannot.

And she blamed members of Congress for holding up additional aid to Libya that might make the country more secure and less chaotic. 

Clinton was testifying Wednesday afternoon on Benghazi before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In his questioning of Clinton Wednesday morning, Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., told her, "I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I really mean that. Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post."

He added, "It's a failure of leadership" which cost the Americans in Benghazi their lives. "I think it's good that you're accepting responsibility-- because no one else is."

Paul also argued that U.S. personnel ought to never have been sent to Benghazi "in a war zone" without a military guard. "You shouldn't send them in with the same kind of embassy staff that you have in Paris," he added.

Clinton replied that all four State Department officials criticized in the ARB report for their roles on the Benghazi events had been removed from their jobs and placed on administrative leave. "The ARB (report) made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the assistant secretary level and below."

The furor over the Benghazi attack helped derail one possible nominee to replace Clinton at the State Department, UN ambassador Susan Rice, whom Republicans assailed for using administration talking points that portrayed the incident as a spontaneous response to an inflammatory anti-Islamic video.

But Clinton told the committee that in the hours and days after the attack, "I was not focused on talking points" and "I wasn't involved in the talking points process."

In her opening statement, Clinton told the committee, "As I have said many times since September 11, I take responsibility.  Nobody is more committed to getting this right.  I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."

Clinton's voice choked with emotion as she recalled the return of "those flag-draped caskets" from the Americans killed in Benghazi and put her arms "around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters" of those killed. 

Clinton also used her testimony to deliver a vigorous call for continued U.S. involvement in the North African nation of Mali where the Obama administration is aiding French efforts to defeat Islamic jihadist forces.

She told the committee that the United States cannot allow Mali to become a safe haven for the group Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), warning of the risk of AQIM attacks on the United States itself.

Clinton also said she could not confirm reports that some of the terrorists involved in last week's Algeria hostage taking were also involved in the Benghazi attack but called it a "new thread" to follow.

She did say that there is no doubt that Algerian terrorists have weapons they obtained from depots in Libya that were opened up and "liberated" after the dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled, with U.S. and NATO help, in 2011.

Clinton said she had accepted the ARBs recommendations for improvements in security procedures and had asked her subordinates "to ensure that all 29 of them are implemented quickly and completely." She said these changes are designed to "reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again."

On Thursday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Clinton's successor, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is the committee's chairman and is likely to be confirmed without any opposition.

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - As she testifies to a pair of Congressional panels today about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya in September, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been hearing the anger of Republicans who aren't satisfied with steps taken by the Obama administration before and after the attack.
    
Sen. John McCain dismissed Clinton's explanation of events, as well as the administration's response to warnings about the worsening security situation in Libya.
    
Republicans repeatedly questioned Clinton about whether she had seen earlier requests for beefed-up security. She said those requests hadn't come to her, and she didn't approve or deny them.
    
Her comments provoked a testy response from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky -- who said that if he had been president, and he'd found out that Clinton hadn't read the cables, he would have relieved Clinton of her post.
    
Clinton, though, criticized House Republicans for recently stripping a billion dollars in security aid from a hurricane relief bill.
    
In response to continuing Republican attacks on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice -- who initially said the attack in Benghazi resulted from a protest over an anti-Islamic video -- Clinton asked, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" She said, "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The possibility of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seeking the presidency in 2016 was the political elephant in the room - or the Democratic donkey - during her congressional hearing on Libya.
    
Republican Rep. Steve Chabot wished Clinton, as he put it, "the best in your future endeavors - mostly." Democratic Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega said he was looking ahead to 2016.
    
They made the comments as Clinton testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
    
Clinton, who is stepping down, hasn't silenced the chatter of White House ambitions. The former first lady, one-time New York senator and 2008 presidential candidate is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate.

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - As she testifies to a pair of Congressional panels today about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya in September, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been hearing the anger of Republicans who aren't satisfied with steps taken by the Obama administration before and after the attack.
    
Sen. John McCain dismissed Clinton's explanation of events, as well as the administration's response to warnings about the worsening security situation in Libya.
    
Republicans repeatedly questioned Clinton about whether she had seen earlier requests for beefed-up security. She said those requests hadn't come to her, and she didn't approve or deny them.
    
Her comments provoked a testy response from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky -- who said that if he had been president, and he'd found out that Clinton hadn't read the cables, he would have relieved Clinton of her post.
    
Clinton, though, criticized House Republicans for recently stripping a billion dollars in security aid from a hurricane relief bill.
    
In response to continuing Republican attacks on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice -- who initially said the attack in Benghazi resulted from a protest over an anti-Islamic video -- Clinton asked, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" She said, "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is challenging Republicans for focusing on the comments made by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in the days after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans in September.
    
Rice initially said the attack resulted from protests, rather than terrorism.
    
Testifying to a Senate panel today, Clinton asked, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" She says she's focused on improving security, rather than on revisiting the "talking points" used by Rice.
    
Clinton said her department is moving swiftly and aggressively to strengthen security at U.S. missions worldwide. She again took responsibility for the department's missteps leading up to the assault at the consulate in Benghazi.
    
Republican Sen. John McCain dismissed Clinton's explanation of events, and also criticized the administration's response to warnings about a worsening security situation in Libya.
    
NEW: Slain diplomat's family: Clinton has sent regrets
    
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Ambassador Chris Stevens' stepfather says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reached out to his family to offer her sympathies about the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the consulate in Libya that killed his stepson.
    
Still, the family is avoiding discussions of whether security was adequate as Clinton testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill about the department's missteps leading up to the assault at the U.S. facility in Benghazi.
    
Bob Commanday, of Oakland, says Clinton met with the family and has written them several times to express her regrets.
    
Commanday says the family has received no privileged information about the adequacy of diplomatic security leading up to the assault.

Clinton: 'very promising leads' on Benghazi attack
    
WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the FBI is "following some very promising leads and putting together cases" as they investigate the Sept. 11 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
    
Clinton told lawmakers on Wednesday that she had gotten an update on the probe in recent days from FBI Director Robert Mueller, who returned from a trip to Libya last week. She said the FBI is now trying to determine "how best to respond" to the leads they have.
    
But Clinton vowed that those responsible for the attack would be brought to justice even if it takes some time.
    
"We will respond," she said.

UPDATE FROM NBC NEWS: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee she took responsibility for not adequately protecting U.S. personnel in the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Defending the administration's immediate handling of the attack, Clinton clashed at times with Republicans over the account the administration gave in the initial days after Sept. 11.  She told Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, "we did not have a clear picture" of all that was going on in Benghazi although she did acknowledge that senators had "legitimate questions" about the administration's account.

The furor over the Benghazi attack helped derail one possible nominee to replace Clinton at the State Department, UN ambassador Susan Rice, whom Republicans assailed for using administration talking points that portrayed the incident as a spontaneous response to an inflammatory anti-Islamic video.

But Clinton told the committee that in the hours and days after the attack, "I was not focused on talking points" and "I wasn't involved in the talking points process."

But she said Rice and the Obama administration did not try to mislead the American people about the cause of the attacks. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she said as she sparred with Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Wisc.

She angrily told Johnson that at this stage it did not really matter what the precise origins or motives of the attack were: "What difference at this point does it make?"

In her opening statement, Clinton told the committee, "As I have said many times since September 11, I take responsibility.  Nobody is more committed to getting this right.  I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."

Clinton's voice choked with emotion as she recalled the return of "those flag-draped caskets" from the Americans killed in Benghazi and her arms "around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters" of those killed. 

Clinton delivered a vigorous call for continued U.S. involvement in the North African nation of Mali where the Obama administration is aiding French efforts to defeat Islamic jihadist forces.

She told the committee that the United States cannot allow Mali to become a safe haven for the group Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), warning of the risk of AQIM attacks on the United States itself.

Clinton also said she could not confirm reports that some of the terrorists involved in last week's Algeria hostage taking were also involved in the Benghazi attack but called it a "new thread" to follow.

She did say that there is no doubt that Algerian terrorists have weapons they got from depots in Libya that were opened up and "liberated" after the dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled, with U.S. and NATO help, in 2011.

She said the Benghazi attack was one of "a long list of tragedies, for our Department and for other (U.S.) agencies," including diplomats being taken hostage taken at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, the bombing of American embassies in East Africa in 1998,  and other attacks.

"Of course, the list of attacks foiled, crises averted, and lives saved, is even longer," she said. "We should never forget that our security professionals get it right 99 percent of the time, against difficult odds all over the world."

Last month a report issued by the Accountability Review Board that Clinton appointed blamed State Department officials for "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" that led to protection for the Benghazi facility that was "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

Clinton said she had accepted the board's recommendations for improvements in security procedures and had asked her subordinates "to ensure that all 29 of them are implemented quickly and completely." She said these changes are designed to "reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again."

Clinton will also testify about the Benghazi episode Wednesday afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

On Thursday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Clinton's successor, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is the committee's chairman and is likely to be confirmed without any opposition.

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress Wednesday that she is committed to improving security at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide after the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.
    
Clinton, in probably her last appearance on Capitol Hill as secretary of state, said she is determined to leave the department and country "safer, stronger and more secure."
    
She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that no one is more committed to "getting this right."
    
She was testifying about the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
    
She was referring to implementing the 29 recommendations of an independent review board that was highly critical of the State Department.
    
Clinton was the sole witness at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panels on the September raid, the independent panel's review and steps the Obama administration has taken to beef up security at U.S. facilities worldwide.
    
Clinton had been scheduled to testify before Congress last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain forced her to postpone her appearance.
    
Her marathon day on Capitol Hill will probably be her last in Congress before she steps down as secretary of state. President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to succeed her, and his swift Senate confirmation is widely expected. Kerry's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
    
Clinton's testimony was to focus on the attack after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation in Libya and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.
    
"It's been a cover-up from the beginning," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday.
    
Politics play an outsized role in any appearance by Clinton, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and is the subject of constant speculation about a possible bid in 2016. The former first lady and New York senator - a polarizing figure dogged by controversy - is about to end her four-year tenure at the State Department with high favorable ratings.
    
A poll early last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65 percent of Americans held a favorable impression of Clinton, compared with 29 percent unfavorable.
    
Challenging Clinton at the hearing will be two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates - Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul, also a new member of the committee.
    
Clinton did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work at the State Department after her illness. On the subject of retirement, she said, "I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while."
    
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Clinton would focus on the Accountability Review Board's independent assessment of the attack and the State Department's work to implement its findings.
    
"Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the panel said in its report last month.
    
The report singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs, saying there appeared to be a lack of cooperation and confusion over protection at the mission in Benghazi. The report described a security vacuum in Libya after rebel forces toppled the decades-long regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
    
The report made 29 recommendations to improve diplomatic security, particularly at high-threat posts.
    
Nuland said Clinton "pledged not only to accept all 29 of the recommendations, but to have the implementation of those recommendations well under way before her successor took over. So I think she'll want to give a status on that."
    
Asked for the number of State Department employees fired for their handling of Benghazi, Nuland said four people were put on administrative leave. They included Eric Boswell, who resigned from the position of assistant secretary of diplomatic security.
    
But Nuland declined to say if Boswell and the others still are working for the department in some capacity.
    
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of the Senate committee, questioned the status of the FBI investigation and whether any individual has been implicated.
    
"My last understanding is that there is no one currently still being held for questioning, no one's been prosecuted for this or held accountable even though the president promised that to be the case," he said.
    
Still, Barrasso insisted that the hearing will be respectful.
    
Presiding over the Senate session will be Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It would be unusual for Kerry to oversee the hearing.
    
"My hope is we look at this as a positive constructive opportunity to build much greater security for our diplomatic missions across the world," Menendez said. "That's how I'm going to the hearing. I hope my colleagues have the same type of view."

PREVIOUS STORY:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is telling Congress that she is committed to improving security at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide after the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.
    
Clinton, in probably her last appearance on Capitol Hill as secretary of state, said she is determined to leave the department and country "safer, stronger and more secure."
    
She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that no one is more committed to "getting this right."
    
She was testifying about the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
    
She was referring to implementing the 29 recommendations of an independent review board that was highly critical of the State Department.
    
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
    
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton faces tough questions in her long-awaited congressional testimony concerning the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
    
Clinton is the sole witness Wednesday at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panels on the September raid, an independent panel's review that harshly criticized the State Department and the steps the Obama administration is taking to beef up security at U.S. facilities worldwide.
    
Clinton had been scheduled to testify before Congress last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain forced her to postpone her appearance.
    
Her marathon day on Capitol Hill will probably be her last in Congress before she steps down as secretary of state. President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to succeed her, and his swift Senate confirmation is widely expected. Kerry's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
    
Clinton's testimony will focus on the attack after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation in Libya and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.
    
"It's been a cover-up from the beginning," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday.
    
Politics play an outsized role in any appearance by Clinton, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and is the subject of constant speculation about a possible bid in 2016. The former first lady and New York senator - a polarizing figure dogged by controversy - is about to end her four-year tenure at the State Department with high favorable ratings.
    
A poll early last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65 percent of Americans held a favorable impression of Clinton, compared with 29 percent unfavorable.
    
Challenging Clinton at the hearing will be two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates - Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul, also a new member of the committee.
    
Clinton did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work at the State Department after her illness. On the subject of retirement, she said, "I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while."
    
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Clinton would focus on the Accountability Review Board's independent assessment of the attack and the State Department's work to implement its findings.
    
"Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the panel said in its report last month.
    
The report singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs, saying there appeared to be a lack of cooperation and confusion over protection at the mission in Benghazi. The report described a security vacuum in Libya after rebel forces toppled the decades-long regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
    
The report made 29 recommendations to improve diplomatic security, particularly at high-threat posts.
    
Nuland said Clinton "pledged not only to accept all 29 of the recommendations, but to have the implementation of those recommendations well under way before her successor took over. So I think she'll want to give a status on that."
    
Asked for the number of State Department employees fired for their handling of Benghazi, Nuland said four people were put on administrative leave. They included Eric Boswell, who resigned from the position of assistant secretary of diplomatic security.
    
But Nuland declined to say if Boswell and the others still are working for the department in some capacity.
    
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of the Senate committee, questioned the status of the FBI investigation and whether any individual has been implicated.
    
"My last understanding is that there is no one currently still being held for questioning, no one's been prosecuted for this or held accountable even though the president promised that to be the case," he said.
    
Still, Barrasso insisted that the hearing will be respectful.
    
Presiding over the Senate session will be Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It would be unusual for Kerry to oversee the hearing.
    
"My hope is we look at this as a positive constructive opportunity to build much greater security for our diplomatic missions across the world," Menendez said. "That's how I'm going to the hearing. I hope my colleagues have the same type of view."
   
 

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