WASHINGTON — Republicans confronted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday over the deadly attack on a U.S. mission in Libya, saying that she failed to bolster security before the assault and shared blame for the Obama administration’s initial, erroneous account of what happened.
“I would have relieved you of your post” for failure of leadership and “culpability” in the loss of four American lives, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told Clinton during her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I believe in taking responsibility, and I have done so,” Clinton responded, saying she is moving quickly to correct security shortcomings.
Clinton’s two and a half hours of testimony before the Senate panel were followed by a three-hour afternoon appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The two sessions gave lawmakers their first opportunity to question the top U.S. diplomat in public on her department’s response to the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said Clinton has allowed a “false narrative” that State Department employees were dismissed for failures related to Benghazi security.
Clinton responded that four individuals were removed from their jobs and put on administrative leave based on the report from an independent review panel. Federal statutes don’t permit firing them for the types of failures identified, she said.
While Democrats on the Senate panel praised Clinton’s performance as secretary of state and her efforts to remedy security weaknesses, Republicans didn’t shy away from taking on one of the most popular figures in Washington and a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
Senator John McCain of Arizona told Clinton her responses to the panel were “not satisfactory to me.”
“We just have a disagreement,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s most heated response came after Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin described as “a good excuse” the administration’s position that information about the circumstances of the attack took time to pin down while avoiding interference with an investigation.
“The fact is, we had four dead Americans,” Clinton said. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
In opening remarks, Clinton said, “I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure.”
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the committee, criticized what he said were “systemic failures” in security decision-making at the State Department.
Clinton said that security measures in general have been constrained by the “consistent shortfalls” in congressional funding for embassy construction and security.