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home : news : north central illinois   May 24, 2016

1/24/2013 6:28:00 AM
Kinzinger asserts concerns, questions Hillary Clinton (video)

Defiant Clinton takes on lawmakers on Libya attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered fiery rejoinders Wednesday to Republican critics of the Obama administration's handling of the deadly attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, facing off with lawmakers who included potential 2016 presidential rivals.

At times emotional and frequently combative, Clinton rejected GOP suggestions in two congressional hearings that the administration tried to mislead the country about the Sept. 11 attack that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. She insisted the State Department is moving swiftly and aggressively to strengthen security at diplomatic posts worldwide.

In her last formal testimony before Congress as America's top diplomat — but perhaps not her last time on the political stage — Clinton once again took responsibility for the department's missteps and failures leading up to the assault. But she also said that requests for more security at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi didn't reach her desk, and reminded lawmakers that they have a responsibility to fund security-related budget requests.

Three weeks after her release from a New York hospital — admitted for complications after a concussion — Clinton was at times defiant, complimentary and willing to chastise lawmakers during more than 5 ½ hours of testimony before two separate committees. She tangled with some who could be rivals in 2016 if she decides to seek the presidency again.

Her voice cracking at one point, Clinton said the attack and the aftermath were highly personal tragedies for the families of the victims who died — Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — as well as herself.

“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a packed hearing.

Clearly annoyed with Republican complaints about the initial explanation for the attack, she rose to the defense of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was vilified for widely debunked claims five days after the attack that protests precipitated the raid rather than terrorism.

Clinton said, “People were trying in real time to get to the best information.” And she said her own focus was on looking ahead on how to improve security rather than revisiting the talking points and Rice's comments.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., pressed her on why “we were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that.”

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said, her voice rising and quivering with anger as she and Johnson spoke over each other.

“Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they would 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.”

If Johnson's comments drew an irritated response from Clinton, she notably ignored Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., when he said he would have fired her if he had been in charge and found that she had not read cables from her team in Libya asking for more security. Paul is a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

“Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post,” Paul said. “I think it's inexcusable.”

Clinton and other officials have testified that requests for additional security did not reach her level, and a scathing independent review of the matter sharply criticized four senior State Department officials who have been relieved of their duties.

“I did not see these requests. They did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them,” she said.

Later, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina repeatedly challenged Clinton's claim to have looked at the tragedy with “clear eyes,” saying she should have personally ensured security at the mission.

He said Clinton had “let the consulate become a death trap” in denying requests for additional security and called it “malpractice.”

Clinton said she could have let the review board's report remain classified and told Congress “goodbye” before leaving office. But she said, it's “not who I am. It's not what I do.”

Absent from the Senate hearing was Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the man tapped to succeed Clinton, who is leaving the administration after four years. Kerry, defeated by George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, is expected to win swift Senate approval. Clinton is to introduce him at his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Politics play an outsized role in any appearance by Clinton, who was defeated by Barack Obama in a hard-fought battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. She is the subject of constant speculation about a possible bid in 2016.

A former New York senator and the wife of former President Bill Clinton, she is a polarizing figure but is ending her tenure at the State Department with high favorability ratings. A poll last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65 percent of Americans held a favorable impression of her, compared with 29 percent unfavorable.

On the panel at the Senate hearing were two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates — Florida's Marco Rubio and Paul, a new member of the committee — as well as John McCain of Arizona, who was defeated by Obama in November 2008.

Clinton, 65, did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work after her hospitalization. On the subject of retirement, she said, “I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”

In a second round of questioning on Wednesday, Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee where Republican members pressed her on why cables and other memos about security deficiencies in Benghazi seemed to be ignored.

“The dots here were connected ahead of time. The State Department saw this was coming,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the panel. “The State Department didn't act.”

Clinton told senators the department is implementing the 29 recommendations of the review board and going beyond the proposals, with a special focus on high-threat posts.

“Nobody is more committed to getting this right,” she said. “I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.”

Clinton had been due to testify in December but postponed her appearances after fainting, falling and suffering a concussion while recovering from a stomach virus that left her severely dehydrated. She was then diagnosed with a blood clot near her brain and returned to work only on Jan. 7.

She won bipartisan well-wishes on her recovery, but while Democrats were quick to praise her for accomplishments as secretary of state, Republicans then hit her with withering criticism.

“It's wonderful to see you in good health and combative as ever,” said McCain.

But in the same breath, he dismissed her explanation of events, the administration's response to warnings about the deteriorating security situation in Libya and even the attention paid to Libya after rebels toppled Moammar Gadhafi. “The answers, frankly, that you've given this morning are not satisfactory to me,” McCain said.

To McCain, a friend that Clinton served with in the Senate, she replied matter-of-factly: “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.”

Some Democrats raised the point that Congress had cut funding for embassy security.

“We have to get our act together,” she told the panels, chiding House GOP members for recently stripping $1 billion in security aid from the hurricane relief bill and the Senate panel for failing for years to produce a spending authorization bill.

In something of a valedictory, Clinton noted her robust itinerary in four years and her work, nearly 1 million miles and 112 countries.

“My faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words ”United States of America“ touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world's indispensable nation. And I am confident that, with your help, we will continue to keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expressed incredulity that the independent review board did not interview Clinton for its extensive report. She also complained about the department's “false narrative” that four employees lost their jobs over the attack.

“There's just been a shuffling of the deck chairs,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

Clinton said earlier that she was not asked to speak to the review board but would have been available. She said the four employees have been removed from their jobs and have been placed on administrative leave, but federal rules prevent the department from taking more drastic steps.

Her testimony followed more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. U.S. officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.

Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Andrew Miga contributed to this report.

NT Staff

From the office of U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger

— U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a Major in the Air National Guard, today questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, particularly why military assets were not put into place during the seven hour lull between attacks.

Transcript of Congressman Kinzinger’s remarks:

“Madam Secretary, thank you for staying. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your service to your country. As was mentioned earlier, look forward to your next steps.

“Let me just say I’m actually an Air Force pilot. I have a few concerns I want to lay out here. One of the first things I was told as a pilot is that your country will never leave you behind. If you find yourself down in enemy lines, rest assured your country will move heaven and earth to come get you. If you find yourself in armed conflict, rest assured your country will do everything in its power to come save you from that armed conflict. Now as the representative of the administration here I have to ask you this: From the initial attack to the second attack, there was a lull of seven hours. Now, I’m going to say this; I was one of a handful of Republicans to vote to support the president’s position in Libya. I think we did the right thing there. But I did it with the knowledge that we would have the military forces in place to be able to rescue any personnel in a tough situation. In that intervening seven hours, military assets to what we know, what we can talk about, were not put in place. Aviano Air Base is 1,044 miles from Benghazi. Aviano Air Base is an F-16 base. Airplanes could have been put in the air after being fueled, even if they didn’t have missiles on them, and there are nonviolent things F-16s can do to disperse crowds that I know of well. So that’s a concern.

“Originally also when you briefed us, it’s been hammered a little bit, but when you briefed us you said unequivocally this was a result of the video. I remember in fact, you got pretty upset about it when somebody suggested this was a terrorist attack. This was our briefing that we had. But we find out now it wasn’t the video. It was a terrorist attack. When we come to talk about the issue of the drone and the surveillance overhead, if there was in fact a drone overhead, I would assume there would be a link from the drone to watch what was going on live or somebody under you was able to watch what was going on live or else that link was down.

“And another question I have; I watched your testimony in the Senate and you said part of the reason we have a little bit of delay in understanding what was going on, we did not have immediate access to the security cameras, the security footage. But yet at the same time, you had mortars being reported, as being fired on security personnel. If I would hear that mortars are being fired I would immediately assume — regardless of whether I could see what was going on overhead, regardless if I could see the security footage — that this is more than a spontaneous demonstration.

“The other question I have too, I’m laying a few out for you; the FEST Team, the foreign response team — Was that your decision not to deploy that right away? Was that an issue of logistics? Where did that come from?

“And the final thing I want to say is this: As a believer, which I think you believe, that we are in a time where it was very important for American leadership to be out in front, to prevent a resurgence of jihadist activity, of al Qaeda activity, I’m worried about the strategy of leading from behind. If the United States Ambassador in Libya, and I say this respectfully, can’t get a message forward to the Secretary of State about his concern about security, in one of the most hot zones in the world, I worry about a lead from behind strategy. And if we have no assets on alert that can respond in a seven-hour lull in two different attacks in one of the most hot spots in the world, on 9/11, on the anniversary, is the lead from behind strategy failing? Because I really want American leadership to be strong. I believe in freedom and I believe we’re the people that will be able to take freedom around the globe. With that, I’ll give you the remaining minute and thank you for your generosity.”

Following the hearing, Kinzinger added:

“The tragedy in Benghazi is a horrifying example of what ‘soft footprint’ diplomacy represents. The Obama Administration consistently refused security forces for Ambassador Chris Stevens. I am particularly concerned about the growing threat of Islamic militants in the North Africa region and the soft response we’ve seen to those groups in Algeriaand Mali. We have yet to bring the Benghaziattackers to justice. The longer justice is delayed the more emboldened our enemies will become. Secretary Clinton agrees with my concerns and advised the president to take a more active and assertive role in the region and I will encourage the administration to heed her advice.”

Congressman Kinzinger serves on the Subcommittees on Middle East andNorth Africa; and Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Clinton's responses on video
Find Hillary Clinton's response on the video attached with this story.

By Craig Sterrett, news editor

In short, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger had presented her with a lot of questions in one passage at the hearing and she would respond as well as she could immediately and then get other answers to him in writing.

She said an investigative board found not evidence of undue delays at Benghazi and the Department of Defense responded as quickly as it could have in the order of command from the President to Secretary Leon Panetta and on down the line. She said the safe evacuation of Americans from Benghazi and also Ramstein was done quite quickly.

As far as allegations that there was reliable video that the Obama Administration and Secretary of State's office saw and should have responded to quickly, she said "at no time did I have a live feed of the attack." With respect to the video that was available, she said it turns out that the Benghazi attack was not a protest, but video coming in from other parts of the world was in response to a controversial video that went viral on the Internet.

She also said it is important for the United States to understand how the events at Benghazi unfolded, and "it's very important we do more to coordinate with DOD."

Related Links:
• Kinzinger speaks before Hillary Clinton

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