BENGHAZI ATTACK

01.23.13

Hillary Clinton Faces Capitol Hill Grilling Over Benghazi Attack

The secretary of state will be asked tough questions about security lapses in last year’s assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission when she testifies before House and Senate committees Wednesday. Lawmakers also will want to know why the attackers have not been punished, says Eli Lake.

Republicans on Wednesday will get their last shot at the woman many of them say has the most to answer for with regard to the 9/11 anniversary assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Call it Hillary Clinton’s exit interview. But instead of getting a gold watch for her service as secretary of state, the former first lady will provide testimony under oath before both the House and Senate committees that deal with foreign affairs.

The buildup to the hearings was dramatic. Last month for example, Clinton had to postpone her appearance after she took a fall and a blood clot formed near her skull. The postponements prompted speculation from Republicans and some in the press that she was deliberately trying to run out the clock on the Benghazi hearings.

While this will be the first time Clinton will appear before an open hearing on Benghazi, she was among the first senior Obama administration officials to brief Congress after the attack. The administration has sent officials to more than 30 closed and open briefings and hearings regarding Benghazi since September.

Wednesday’s hearings will provide an opportunity for both Clinton and Republicans to attempt to set the record straight on a highly charged story that spilled out in the final weeks of the 2012 election campaign. Republicans say the Obama administration was not straight with the public when government officials linked the attack in Benghazi to regional protests of an Internet film depicting the Muslim prophet in a negative light.

The hearing also will provide a potential preview for the presidential politics of 2016.

Clinton, who as a senator served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will be squaring off against Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida who is considered one of the strongest contenders for his party’s presidential nomination in the next election cycle.

Video screenshot

''How could this happen?' asked Secretary Clinton as she publicly mourned the loss of the diplomats who died in Benghazi.'

Rubio has taken a keen interest in Benghazi. In a hearing last month, he drilled down on whether the warnings about the deteriorating conditions in the run-up to Benghazi made their way to the top levels of the State Department.

Clinton’s toughest grilling, however, is likely to come in the House of Representatives. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who serves as a subcommittee chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, says he plans to focus on why there appears to be no response to date against the groups who attacked the U.S. facility, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans that evening.

The hearing also will provide a potential preview for the presidential politics of 2016.

“I will be asking whether or not any of our intelligence people or people who are employed by our intelligence system go to the hospital that night to find out who the wounded people were and who were their bosses?” Rohrabacher told The Daily Beast. “Those are the type of questions, and we need to know.”

The chairman of Rohrabacher’s committee, Rep. Ed Royce, has so far kept his cards close. Last month, after the State Department released the findings of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Benghazi, Royce promised to dig deeper into the Benghazi incident. Earlier this month, he said he intended for the hearing to “focus on why this attack was not better anticipated, what leadership failures at the State Department existed, and what management deficiencies need to be corrected in order to better secure our diplomatic facilities abroad and protect our diplomats serving in them.”

Clinton for her part is expected to stress how the State Department is already absorbing the many lessons learned about Benghazi from the ARB. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “I think she will focus not only on the ARB report, but on all the work that the department has done already to implement the ARB report.”

One challenge for Clinton will be the fact that the hearing will be televised and open to the public. The Benghazi diplomatic mission provided cover for a number of CIA activities. State Department officials also have told Congress in closed sessions that part of the security plan for the facility relied on the CIA’s security contractors.