National Beat Reporter
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democratic presidential frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent 11 hours before the House of Representatives Benghazi Select Committee last Thursday, and her campaign seems to have emerged as stronger.
“You know, a lot of things have been said about me, but ‘quitter’ isn’t one of them,” Clinton told supporters at an Oct. 23 campaign rally in Alexandria, Virginia.
Clinton’s Oct. 22 testimony contributed to the eighth congressional investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012 attack by terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which John Christopher Stevens became the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Additional casualties included U.S. Foreign Information Officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. Smith and Doherty died as the result of an attack on a separate CIA compound.
“As secretary of State, I had the honor to lead and the responsibility to support nearly 70,000 diplomats and development experts across the globe,” Clinton said in her opening statement. “Losing any one of them, as we did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Haiti and Libya, during my tenure was deeply painful for our entire State Department and USAID family, and for me personally. I was the one who asked Chris to go to Libya as our envoy. I was the one who recommended him to be our ambassador to the president.”
The $4.5 million investigation launched in March 2014 after the House voted 232-186 to establish the select committee on Benghazi, headed by Republican Representative Trey Gowdy. It didn’t take long for partisan politics to take center stage at the hearing.
“We owe them and each other the truth — the truth about why we were in Libya, the truth about what we were doing in Libya, the truth about the escalating violence in Libya before we were attacked and these four men were killed, the truth about requests for additional security, the truth about requests for additional personnel, the truth about requests for additional equipment, the truth about where and why our military was positioned as it was on the anniversary of 9/11, the truth about what was happening and being discussed in Washington while our people were under attack, the truth about what led to the attacks and the truth about what our government told the American people after the attacks,” Gowdy said in his opening statement.
Ranking Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings was quick to counter with suspicions of an ulterior motive on the part of House Republicans.
“The problem is that the Republican caucus did not like the answers they got from those [six] investigations, so they set up this select committee with no rules, no deadline and an unlimited budget,” Cummings said. “And they set them loose, Madam Secretary, because you’re running for president.”
In May of this year, it came to light that as Secretary of State, Clinton had used a personal email server to handle her government business in place of a standard state.gov address. Though at the time the practice was not explicitly outlawed, the discovery has raised questions regarding how she handled classified information from her personal email address. Clinton has since turned over approximately 30,000 emails to the State Department and admitted to deleting 30,000 more on the grounds that her staff had deemed them personal. The ambiguity of the situation, which is now being investigated by the FBI, added fuel to the fire of Republican committee members who already doubted they were privy to the whole Benghazi story.
“I don’t want you to have a mistaken impression about what I did and how I did it,” Clinton said. “Most of my work was not done on e-mails but with my closest aides, with officials in the State Department, officials in the rest of the government, as well as the White House and people around the world.”
The partisan debate surrounding the attack hinges on whether the State Department should be held accountable for the Benghazi attack based on prior intelligence that critics believe should have prompted State officials to implement security measures that would have prevented an attack. The findings of previous investigations indicate the department had reports available to them on terrorist activity in Libya shortly before the attack, and — perhaps more importantly — had received cable messages from the consulate requesting increased security on the premises. There has also been considerable debate about whether the attack can be linked to a 14-minute trailer for an anti-Islamic movie titled Innocence of Muslims, which has already sparked protests across the Muslim world.
“If the Libyan people didn’t have a government capable of providing security, and we didn’t have U.S. military in Libya, then we have two options. We either leave when it gets too dangerous, or the State Department makes sure that they provide that protection,” said Republican Representative Mo Brooks.
Clinton disputed charges that her staff had failed to respond in any way to Benghazi security requests, clarifying that the department simply could not fulfill all of them as a matter of pragmatism.
“That is what an ambassador, especially in a diplomat as experienced as Chris Stevens, would expect,” Clinton said, “that it would be unlikely to be able to get every one of your requests immediately answered positively.”
Despite numerous failures by the State Department outlined in each previous investigative report, none so far have been able to assign blame to any single individual for the attack. While the State Department’s legally mandated Accountability Review Board identified “systematic failure and leadership and management deficiencies,” only four officials were temporarily suspended and later reassigned elsewhere in the department.
By the end of the final hour of probing, committee speculation had not yielded much new information. Gowdy thanked Clinton before adjourning the hearing at 9 PM.
Clinton seemed undaunted by the lengthy ordeal on her campaign trail the following afternoon.
“Yes, I know how to find common ground,” Clinton said at the Virginia rally. “I did it in the Senate, I did it as Secretary of State and I will certainly do it as president. I will go anywhere, anytime, to meet with anybody to find common ground. But I also know how to stand my ground.”