Heated exchanges from Benghazi Senate hearing 1/23/2013

Associated Press

Below are three contentious exchanges during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s testimony during the Wednesday Senate hearing on the events in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed. Critics have said the White House was slow to concede that it was a terrorist attack, and not spontaneous violence arising from a protest. Below, questions from Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Sen. John McCain(R., Ariz.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and responses from Mrs. Clinton.

Transcript provided by Federal News Service (www.fednews.com)

Ron Johnson: Would ‘a simple phone call’ to evacuees have determined what happened?


SEN. JOHNSON: Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks [people evacuated from Libya] very shortly afterwards?

SEC. CLINTON: There was discussion going on afterwards, but the — once the investigation started, the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them. And so other than our people in Tripoli, which — I think you’re talking about Washington, right?

SEN. JOHNSON: Yeah. The point–the point I’m making is a very simple phone call to these individuals I think would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. I mean, this attack started at 9:40 p.m., Benghazi time, and it was an assault — and I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault. ….


SEN. JOHNSON: Why wasn’t that known? And again, I appreciate the fact of the transparency of this — of this hearing, but why weren’t we transparent at that point in time?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries — as I said, I still a DS agent at Walter Reed seriously injured — getting them into Frankfurt, Ramstein –

SEN. JOHNSON: Is that –

SEC. CLINTON: — to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to start talking to them — we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews, so — and we did not — I think this is accurate, sir — I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.

And, you know, I just want to say that, you know, people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of, you know, misleading Americans. I can say, trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth. Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially? And I appreciate the –

SEN. JOHNSON: But Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have — wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?

I mean, that was — that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained –

SEC. CLINTON: Well, but Senator, again –

SEN. JOHNSON: — within hours, if not days.

SEC. CLINTON: Senator, I — you know, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one. Number two — number two at –

SEN. JOHNSON: Well, that’s — I realize — I realize that’s — I realize that’s a good excuse, but –

SEC. CLINTON: Well, no, it’s the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB, because even today there are questions being raised.

Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still — is still unknown.

SEN. JOHNSON: No, no, no, no, I’m — I — again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact –

SEC. CLINTON: But could — but, you know –

SEN. JOHNSON: — and the American people could have known that within days, and they didn’t know that.

SEC. CLINTON: And — with all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans.

SEN. JOHNSON: I understand.

SEC. CLINTON: 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, Senator.

Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. But the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But, you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

SEN. JOHNSON: OK. Thank you, Madam Secretary

John McCain: Answers ‘are not satisfactory to me’


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R., Ariz.): Thank you, Madam Secretary, and it’s wonderful to see you in good health and –

SEC. CLINTON: Thank you.

SEN. MCCAIN: — as combative as ever.

SEC. CLINTON: (Chuckles.)

SEN. MCCAIN: It’s — we thank you, we thank you for your outstanding and dedicated service to this nation, and we’re all proud of you. All over the world where I travel, you are viewed with admiration and respect.

Four months or months after the Benghazi tragedy — it’s a tragedy when we lose four brave Americans — there are many questions that are unanswered. And the answers, frankly, that you’ve given this morning are not satisfactory to me. Was — were you and the president made aware of the classified cable from Chris Stevens (which ?) said that the United States consulate in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault? Numerous warnings, including personally to me, about the security were unanswered or unaddressed.

It took a CNN reporter looking through the consulate to find Chris Stevens’ last warning. When were you made aware of that cable? When were you made aware of the attack on the British ambassador and the assassination attempts and the closing of the consulates there, and what actions were taken? What was the president’s activities during that seven-hour period?

On the anniversary of the worst attack in American history, September 11th, we didn’t have Department of Defense forces available for seven hours. Two brave Americans died in the last hour. With all these warnings, all these things — (inaudible) — we didn’t have a single Department of Defense asset apparently available to come to these rescue.

I categorically reject your answer to Senator Johnson about, well, we didn’t ask these survivors, who were flown to Ramstein the next day, that they — that this was not a spontaneous demonstration. To say that it’s because an investigation was going on — the American people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don’t deserve false answers. And the answers that were given to the American people on September 15th by the ambassador to the United Nations were false, in fact contradicted by the classified information which was kept out of the secretary to the United Nations report, who, by the way, in the president’s words, had nothing to do with Benghazi, which questions why she was sent out start — to start with.

Why is it that the administration still refuses to provide the full text of emails regarding the deletion of references to al-Qaida and terrorism in the talking points?…

Finally, Madam Secretary, I strongly disagree with your depiction of what we did after Gadhafi fell. We did not provide the security that was needed. We did not help them with border security. We did not give them the kind of assistance that would have been necessary to help dismantle these militias that still, to this day, remain a challenge to democracy in Libya and freedom.

You knew Chris Stevens very well. I knew him very well. I knew him on July 7th, when I went to Libya to observe the elections. And at that time, on July 7th, he expressed to me his deep and grave concerns about security, particularly in Benghazi. And he continued to communicate with the State Department, and I don’t know who else was privy to those cables of his deep concern about the security there and the need for additional assistance. And I will argue with facts that after that event took place, after the fall of Gadhafi, the, quote, soft footprint was partially, to some degree, responsible for the tragedy that took place. The American people and the families of these four brave Americans still have not gotten the answers that they deserve. I hope that they will get them.

SEC. CLINTON: Well, Senator, I understand your very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris. You were one of the staunchest supporters of the efforts to dislodge Gadhafi and try to give the Libyan people a chance.

And we just have a disagreement. We have a disagreement about what did happen and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events. We did get to talk to the DS agents when they got back to this country. We did so. It was not before September 15th. We had no access to the surveillance cameras for weeks, which helped to answer a number of questions.

But with respect to helping the Libyans — and that also goes to the question Senator Rubio asked — we will provide a list of everything we were doing and were attempting to do.

Rand Paul: ‘I would have relieved you of your post’


SEN. RAND PAUL (R., Ky.): Thank you for appearing, Secretary Clinton. And I’m glad to see your health is improving.

SEC. CLINTON: Thank you.

SEN. PAUL: One of the things that disappointed me most about the original 9/11 was no one was fired. We spent trillions of dollars, but there were a lot of human errors. These are judgment errors, and the people who make judgment errors need to be replaced, fired and no longer in a position of making these judgment calls.

So we have a review board. The review board finds 64 different things that we can change. A lot of them are common sense and should be done. But the questions is, it’s a failure of leadership that they weren’t done in advance. And four lives were cost because of this.

I’m glad that you’re accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately, with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable.

The thing is, is that, you know, we can understand that you’re not reading every cable. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware of the cable from the ambassador in Vienna that asks for $100,000 for an electrical charging station. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called “Make Chai Not War.” But I think you might be able to be — understand and might be aware of the 80 million (dollars) spent on a consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif that will never be built. I think it’s inexcusable that you did not know about this and that you did not read these cables.

I would think by anybody’s estimation, Libya has to have been one of the hottest of hot spots around the world. Not to know of the request for securities really, I think, cost these people their lives. Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, had someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job.

And the thing is, is I don’t suspect you of bad motives. The review board said, well, these people weren’t willfully negligent. I don’t think you were willfully — I don’t suspect your motives of wanting to serve your country.

But it was a failure of leadership not to be involved. It was a failure of leadership not to know these things. And so I think it is good that you’re accepting responsibility because no one else is. And this is — there is a certain amount of culpability to the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I’m glad you’re accepting this.

Now, my question is, is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?

SEC. CLINTON: To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. That’s — I — nobody’s ever raised that with me. I –

SEN. PAUL: It’s been in — it’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what I’d like to know is, the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, Senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. And I will — I will see what information is available and –

SEN. PAUL: You’re saying you don’t know.

SEC. CLINTON: I do not know. I don’t have any information on that.

And, you know, with respect to personnel, Senator, you know, first, that’s why we have independent people who review the situation as we did with the Pickering and Mullen ARB. And all four individuals identified in the ARB have been removed from their job. Secondly, they’ve been placed on administrative leave while we stepped through the personnel process to determine the next steps.

Third, both Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen specifically highlighted the reason why this is complicated, because under federal statute and regulations, unsatisfactory leadership is not grounds for finding a breach of duty. The ARB did not find these four individuals breached their duty.

So I have submitted legislation to this committee, to the Congress, to fix this problem so future ARBs will not face the situation.


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