Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out over the claim that the administration misled Americans about the nature of the Libya terror attack by asserting that it was the result of a protest, raising her voice during a Senate hearing and asking: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Clinton, in what may be her final set of testimony as secretary, pointedly challenged Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson when he claimed the department could have “easily” determined what happened that night by interviewing staffers who were evacuated.
He was referring to the administration’s initial claim that the attack sprung out of a protest. It was later determined there was no protest on the ground in Benghazi. Diplomatic security agents said as much to the FBI during interviews on Sept. 14, despite administration claims to the contrary two days later.
“That was a piece of information that could have been easily — easily — ascertained, within hours if not days,” Johnson said.
“We were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that. … The American people could have known that (there was no protest) within days, and they didn’t know that.”
At that point, Clinton began to raise her voice.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said.
“I understand,” Johnson said.
Clinton continued to speak, raising her voice and gesturing: “Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans?
“What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Clinton, lowering her voice, then said it is the administration’s job to “figure out what happened” and prevent it from happening again.
Later in the testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton acknowledged the administration did not have a “clear picture” of what happened in the immediate aftermath. She said perhaps officials didn’t do a good enough job explaining that they “didn’t have a clear picture.”
But Clinton still said the motivations of the attackers, to this day, is not clear. “Even today there are questions being raised,” she said, referring to findings in the classified version of a recent report that she could not describe in detail.
Clinton, throughout the hearing, walked a fine line between taking responsibility generally for what went wrong and challenging specific allegations against her department and the administration.