After a campaign season of mounting furor over the Obama administration’s twists and turns on the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, today’s long-anticipated testimony of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the bombshell that wasn’t.
Through morning and afternoon hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then the House Foreign Affairs Committee, postponed from their original dates because of the secretary’s medical crises, Clinton came prepared to bite back at her challengers and confronted the mere handful of Republicans willing to go toe-to-toe with her.
Then, during the second hearing, administration officials leaked the news that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would be opening combat roles to women, effectively pulling the Twitter trend away from Benghazi. Over in the House, the “No Budget, No Pay” debt-ceiling deal was passed, putting a third contender for the news cycle in the ring.
And even though he doesn’t sit on the Senate committee, one of the administration’s most notable critics on Benghazi wasn’t even in town: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
“We hope that he’s not held hostage for too long — some of us hope that he is,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quipped at a press conference yesterday.
McCain, a new member on the Foreign Relations Committee this Congress, was one of the tougher questioners of Clinton in the first hearing of the day.
“The answers, frankly, that you’ve given this morning are not satisfactory to me,” he said.
“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.”
Clinton brushed off McCain multitude of questions about who knew what when, why things weren’t included in the investigation, and why the administration is still withholding information as a “disagreement.”
“I understand your very, very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris,” she said in reference to the slain ambassador. “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.”
Clinton also became noticeably enraged when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) questioned her about how “we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that.”
“The American people could have known that within days, and they didn’t know that,” Johnson said.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, her voice rising and hands clenched into fists. “Whether because of a protest, or whether because of guys out for a walk one night and 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.”
“…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.”
There were some new members on each of the panels thanks to the scandal carrying over from the 112th Congress to the 113th. And on the Senate side, one of those was Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“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,” Paul said. “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.”
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Later on CNN, Paul — a potential 2016 presidential candidate — took a stab at Clinton’s fitness for future office.
“I think this precludes her and should preclude her from being in a position where she can make these judgment calls,” he said.