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At Testy Libya Hearings, Clinton Urges Lawmakers to 'Look Forward'

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Clinton addressed both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, answering questions about the 2012 attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya.

To that end, the review board issued 29 recommendations in a report last month to help shore up security in high-threat posts, as well as address some of the bureaucratic roadblocks that hindered communications around Benghazi.

In hindsight, it has become clear that security at that compound was woefully inadequate, Clinton conceded. She testified that specific security requests for the U.S. consulate in Benghazi coming in the summer before the attack never rose to her level.

“I didn’t see those requests, they didn’t come to me, I didn’t approve them, I didn’t deny them,” Clinton told lawmakers.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., responded that “it was a failure of leadership not to know these things.”

“Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi ... I would have relieved you of your post,” he said.

The Accountability Review Board “made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the assistant secretary level and below,” Clinton responded.

The State Department is now implementing all the recommendations released by that board in December.

Clinton told lawmakers that “fully 85 percent” of the tasks that the department developed out of those recommendations “are on track to be completed by the end of March, with a number completed already.”

The State Department is also instituting an annual High Threat Post Review chaired by the secretary of State.

Clinton, who is expected to be replaced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the coming weeks, urged lawmakers to work with the State Department going forward to “really understand and address the resources, support and changes that are needed to face what are increasingly complex threats.’”

Democrats, notably Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Foreign Relation’s presumed next chairman, and House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot L. Engel of New York, called on their fellow lawmakers to support more funding for diplomatic security, which they noted has not met State Department requests in recent years.

Menendez also supported Clinton’s calls to alter contracting laws, which, according to Clinton, require the State Department to accept the lowest-priced contract for security guards.

“We have requested a change in the legislation that would allow us to use some discretion to try to deal with the varieties and vagaries of these local guard forces,” Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Separately, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top appropriator for the State Department, blasted House Republicans for not including a Senate-backed provision to bolster embassy security from an emergency supplemental spending measure (HR 152) the House passed last week.

“For Republicans to blame the administration for failing to protect our diplomats, without acknowledging their own efforts to slash resources for embassy security, is pure, distilled hypocrisy,” Leahy said Wednesday in a written statement.

A number of Republicans commented that it’s not clear money itself is the issue.

“This committee would have no idea whether the appropriate amount of money is being spent, or if that could have prevented what happened in Benghazi because we’ve never done an authorization ... never done the kind of oversight that this committee ought to do,” Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee said in his opening remarks.

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