Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clinton Defends Actions on Benghazi

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clinton Defends Actions on Benghazi

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- In one of her final appearances as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday vigorously defended her handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans and prompted a scathing review of State Department procedures.

"As I have said many times, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right," she said, reading a statement during a day of testimony before Senate and House committees. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure."

But Ms. Clinton, whose appearance before Congress had been postponed since December because of illness, quickly departed from the script. She jousted with Republicans lawmakers over who deserved blame for the security problems at the compound and choked up as she described being at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington, when the bodies of the Americans killed in the assault arrived from Libya.

"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews," she said. "I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters."

The continuing controversy over the attack, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has cast a cloud over Ms. Clinton's final months at the State Department. It also has enormous political implications for the former New York senator, who is already regarded as the front- runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she chooses to run. It was the first time she had faced extensive questioning about her role in the episode.

In essence, Ms. Clinton's approach was to accept the responsibility for security lapses in Benghazi, but not the blame.

"I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department," Ms. Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning. "But the specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know, were handled by the security professionals in the department. I didn't see those requests. They didn't come to me. I didn't approve them. I didn't deny them."

When the question of her role was taken up again in the afternoon hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Ed Royce, R- Calif., Ms. Clinton acknowledged that she had been briefed on a series of events that indicated that security in Benghazi was deteriorating in the months before the attack. They included placement of a bomb at the compound's outer wall in June and an ambush that month on the British ambassador. But she said she had gone along with a recommendation from subordinates that the Benghazi post be kept open and assumed that they would take the necessary steps to protect it. …

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