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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged lawmakers Wednesday to focus on how the United States can improve security and diplomacy in unstable regions such as North Africa in the future, rather than dwell on past statements about the attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September and the motivation of the attackers.
“It is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided” to attack the Benghazi facility, Clinton testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning. Rather, the United States needs to be “looking forward,” she said.
“Libya is still dangerous. It is still in a very unstable status. And whatever we can do for them, we at least ought to agree we need to do and get out there and start delivering,” she said.
It was an emotional day on Capitol Hill for Clinton, who also testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon. In one of her final appearances as secretary of State, she choked up as she recalled greeting the flag-draped coffins of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, which she said she felt responsible for.
She also displayed flashes of anger when responding to Republican accusations that the Obama administration played politics in its characterizations of the attack, which took place during the homestretch of the presidential election.
As they have for months, GOP lawmakers zeroed in on United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice’s comments on Sunday news programs, five days after the attack, that it had evolved out of protests against an anti-Muslim video.
“We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then ... an assault sprang out of that,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a new member of the Foreign Relations panel. “And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact and the American people could have known that within days.”
Clinton denied that, noting that it took weeks for Washington officials to piece together the full picture and timeline of the attack. The independent review board appointed by the State Department found that there are still questions about the attackers’ motivations and planning, she pointed out.
Johnson kept pressing, and Clinton finally exploded. “With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans,” she said, voice raised. “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? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”