WASHINGTON, Oct 22, (AP): Hillary Rodham Clinton firmly defended her actions on Benghazi as she came faceto- face Thursday with the Republican-led special investigation of the 2012 attacks on a US diplomatic mission in the Libyan city, hoping to put to rest the worst episode of her tenure as secretary of state and clear an obstacle to her presidential campaign. Democrats have assailed the investigation as a ploy to derail Clinton’s White House bid. The hearing comes at a moment of political strength for Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
On Wednesday, a potential rival for the nomination, Vice- President Joe Biden, announced he would not join the race. Clinton also is riding the momentum of a solid debate performance last week. Clinton kicked off a long day of questioning with a plea that the United States maintain its global leadership role despite the threat posed to US diplomats. She hailed the efforts of the four Americans who died in the Sept 11, 2012, attacks, including the first ambassador in more than three decades, but told the House Benghazi Committee that the deadly events have already been exhaustively scrutinized. “We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology” Clinton said in her opening remarks, the closest she came to directly rebuking her Republican investigators.
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina started the hearing with a series of questions that he said remained unanswered: Why was the US in Libya, why were security requests denied, why was the military not ready to respond quickly on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and why did the Obama administration change its story about the nature of the attacks in the weeks afterward? “These questions linger because previous investigations were not thorough,” Gowdy said. Clinton addressed some of these matters early on. She stressed a need for diplomats to advance US interests in the world, even in dangerous places, and said perfect security can never be achieved. She noted the various attacks on US diplomatic and military installations overseas during the presidencies of her husband, Bill Clinton, in the 1990s and Ronald Reagan a decade earlier. The US military campaign against Moammar Gaddafi in 2011 helped prevent “genocide,” Clinton asserted, noting the Libyan dictator’s threat to hunt down opponents like “cockroaches.” The American-led intervention came after requests for assistance from allies in Europe and the Arab world, and extensive study and discussion by the US government, she said.
The Republican criticism has included contentions by some lawmakers that Clinton personally denied security requests and ordered the US military to “stand down” during the attacks, or that her agency was engaged in an elaborate gun-running scheme in eastern Libya. None of these were substantiated in the independent Accountability Review Board investigation ordered by Clinton after the deadly incident, and seven subsequent congressional investigations. Gowdy is engaged in his own balancing act, portraying the panel as focused on the facts after comments by fellow Republicans describing the inquiry as an effort designed to hurt Clinton’s presidential bid.
On Thursday, Democrats on the panel immediately focused on several, long-debunked allegations regarding the response of Clinton and the Obama administration to the series of attacks on the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and a nearby CIA compound. Although Republicans pressed for answers, there were no confrontations with Clinton in the early rounds of questioning. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep Elijah Cummings of Maryland, described the entire probe as a partisan campaign replete with implausible conspiracy theories.
The hearing was expected to last the whole day, with breaks. Clinton was certain to face questions about her use of a private email account and server while serving as President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat, another issue that has beset her campaign. A new Associated Press-Gfk poll shows the public mixed on Clinton and Benghazi. Four in 10 say they neither approve nor disapprove of how she has answered questions about the attack, while 20 percent approve and 37 percent disapprove. Americans also are divided on Clinton’s email practices, which have raised security concerns. More than half of those polled view her use of a private server as a minor problem or no problem at all, compared with 1 in 3 who think it is a major problem.
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans call it a major problem. In the weeks after Benghazi, Clinton took responsibility for the incidents. In recent months, she has said her use of a private email server was a mistake.