Clinton Angrily Defends Handling of Benghazi Attack

Washington (Reuters) -

Republican Senator Says He Would Have Fired Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday angrily defended her handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi and denied any effort to mislead the American people.

The attack by armed terrorists that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans threatens to stain Clinton’s legacy as Secretary of State and could cast a longer shadow should she decide to make a White House run in 2016.

By turns emotional and fierce, Clinton choked up at a congressional hearing as she spoke of comforting the victims’ families and grew angry when a Republican senator accused the Obama administration of misleading the country over whether the Benghazi incident stemmed from a protest.

“With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans,” Clinton shot back as she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an appearance delayed more than a month because of her ill health.

“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” she said, making chopping motions with her hands for emphasis.

Clinton cast the Benghazi incident as part of a long history of such violence as well as the result of instability since the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011, toppling authoritarian rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

“Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum,” Clinton said. “The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”

The Benghazi assault occurred the same day that a mob, angered by a California-made video depicting the founder of Islam as a fool and a fraud, attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo. It was followed by attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan.

Republicans harshly criticized Clinton, and President Barack Obama’s administration more generally, with Senator Bob Corker saying the Benghazi attack and the U.S. response displayed “woeful unpreparedness” for the events sweeping the region and Senator Rand Paul saying Clinton should have been fired.

‘I Take Responsibility’

Clinton, echoing comments she first made on Oct. 15, said that “I take responsibility” for the shortcomings in security at the Benghazi mission. She stressed that she had accepted all the recommendations of an independent review panel that investigated the incident and that held lower-level officials responsible.

“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 said.

Terrorists attacked and overwhelmed the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 in a sustained assault.

The official U.S. inquiry released on Dec. 18 concluded that “leadership and management failures” in two State Department bureaus led to a security posture “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

The unclassified version of the “Accountability Review Board” report also faulted poor coordination and unclear lines of authority in Washington.

Four lower-level officials were placed on administrative leave following the release of the inquiry, which did not find Clinton personally at fault.

A separate Senate committee report said the State Department made a “grievous mistake” in keeping the Benghazi mission open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before the attack.

During a morning Senate hearing and a later session in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats pointed fingers at each other, with Republicans accusing Clinton’s State Department of mismanagement and Democrats saying Congress had not approved sufficient funds for security.

Clinton is expected to step down in the coming days once her designated successor, Senator John Kerry, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Clinton at one point said that she had not seen requests from U.S. officials in Libya seeking additional security.