Clinton faces grilling on deadly Benghazi attack

8:45 AM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton/AP
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Many questions await Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday as she appears before Congress to explain her response to a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The State Department for days blamed the Sept. 11 attack on a spontaneous protest to what it called a "reprehensible" video that denigrated Islam's prophet, while CIA and diplomats from the scene were reporting that no protest preceded the attack.

"The obvious question that Secretary Clinton would be asked is why, based on the information she had, did she mislead and misdirect people for so long," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah who chairs one of several committees investigating the incident.

"She made and approved statements that were misleading. She repeatedly talked about the video, which ... was not the reason for the attack."

An Independent Accountability Review Board appointed by the State Department concluded that "systemic failures" left the consulate in Benghazi inadequately protected and confirmed that no protest preceded the deadly attack. In a report released in December, the board recommended that the State Department strengthen security in high-risk posts.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said at the time the department reacted to the attack by taking immediate steps to protect personnel and postings in embassies and consulates facing large protests around the world.

The department also "intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa," Burns said. "We continue to work to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi. And we are working with our partners to close safe havens, cut off terrorist finances, counter extremist ideology and slow the flow of new recruits."

Clinton ordered the Accountability Review Board to find out what happened, Burns said. "We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the report exposed "the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad."

Chaffetz said questions for Clinton will begin with security failures that started well before the attack occurred at 9:40 p.m. Sept. 11, then focus heavily on the night of the attack and on State's response afterward.

She has never faced questioning on this before, even by the independent review board, Chaffetz said.

"The part most mysterious, the least number of questions answered, is her personal involvement during the 26 hours from start to finish, when those injured were brought to Germany," he said.

Committee members are likely to start with questions about Clinton's involvement and response to requests for increased security by Stevens and his security chief after the consulate was bombed June 6, Chaffetz said. Those requests were denied.

"If the secretary was not involved in that, why, how can that be?" Chaffetz asked. "How many consulates are bombed, and that one was bombed twice at that point."

When Clinton ran against President Obama four years ago, she ran a TV ad asking whether he was ready for a 3 a.m. call that requires judgment and decisive action.

"Well, that call came for both of them," Chaffetz said. "The ambassador was missing for seven hours. What was her interaction with the president? Did she go to bed?"

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