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Emotional and defiant, Clinton answers Congress on Benghazi attack

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 6:13 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013
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Republican lawmakers had demanded for months that Clinton explain in person the many missteps that an independent review panel found in her department’s handling of the Benghazi crisis. Clinton’s appearance was delayed by a prolonged illness and a concussion she suffered after a fainting spell, though some right-wing critics accused her of trying to wriggle out of her commitment to testify.

On Wednesday, Clinton reiterated her full responsibility for the overall security posture of the department. But she reminded the committee that the review board had found that direct responsibility for the deficiencies highlighted during the Benghazi assault began at the level of assistant secretary and below.

The report stopped short of deeming the lapses a dereliction of duty, which would’ve required proof of intentional misconduct, and instead blamed poor leadership of senior officials for leaving the Benghazi consulate a highly vulnerable target in a volatile city where other visiting diplomats already had shut down operations or taken more precautions. Four State Department managers were placed on administrative leave as part of disciplinary actions related to the report’s findings; one of them resigned.

Republican lawmakers, however, insisted that Clinton be held directly responsible. She sparred with them in testy exchanges over whether she’d read cables related to Benghazi security concerns, and about whether State Department officials should’ve spoken more quickly with evacuees to ascertain the nature of the Benghazi attack. One Republican told Clinton bluntly that she should’ve been dismissed from her Cabinet seat.

“Had I been president at the time, I would have relieved you of your post,” said freshman Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

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The Accountability Review Board’s report portrays a total system breakdown in the attacks on the U.S. consulate and the CIA annex, though the Central Intelligence Agency wasn’t mentioned once in the public version of the report. The full, classified version included recommendations related to intelligence matters, as Clinton reiterated Wednesday when explaining her constraints to answering some questions that dealt with intelligence recommendations.

Intelligence agency reports failed to provide any “immediate, specific tactical warning” of the Sept. 11 attacks, the panel found, adding that “known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests.”

The consulate in Benghazi, according to the review board’s report, had an inadequate number of security agents, a lack of protective equipment, and was overseen by officials who failed to appreciate and craft a response to the city’s rapidly deteriorating security situation. The Libyan militia that was assigned to protect U.S. convoys was on strike at the time of the attack, upset over wages and working hours.

While the report didn’t fill in the gaps on what the Obama administration knew about the attacks and when — one of the most controversial points in the government’s handling of the aftermath — the panel did find that there was no anti-American demonstration preceding the attack, as senior officials once had insisted.

“The board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity,” stated the unclassified version of the report that was released publicly.

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(Steve Thomma of the Washington Bureau contributed.)

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©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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