Wednesday morning at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the attacks that took place on September 11, 2012 at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Senator Johnson : Thank you Mr. Chairman and Madam Secretary, I’d like to join my colleagues in thanking you for your services sincerely, and also appreciate the fact that you’re here testifying and glad that you’re looking in good health.
Were you fully aware in real time - and again I realize how big your job is and everything is erupting in the Middle East at this time - were you full aware of these 20 incidents that were reported in the ARB in real time?
Secretary Clinton : I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention. They were part of our ongoing discussion about the deteriorating threat environment in eastern Libya. We certainly were very conscious of them. I was assured by our security professionals that repairs were under way, additional security upgrades had taken place.
Johnson : Thank you. Did you see personally the cable on I believe it was August 12th, specifically asking for reinforcements for the security detail that was going to be evacuating or leaving in August? Did you see that personally?
Clinton : No sir.
Johnson : Okay, when you see the ARB, it strikes me how certain the people were that the attacks started at 9:40 Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoke to, or have you ever spoken to the returnees, the evacuees? Did you personally speak to those folks?
Clinton : I‘ve spoken to one of them, but I waited until after the ARB had done its investigation because I did not want there to be anybody raising any issue that I had spoken to anyone before the ARB conducted its investigation.
Johnson : How many people were evacuated from Libya?
Clinton : Then numbers are a little bit hard to pin down because of our other friends.
Johnson : Approximately?
Clinton : Approximately, 25-30.
Johnson : Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks very shortly afterwards?
Clinton : There was discussion going on afterwards, but once the investigation started the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them, and so other than our people in Tripoli, which I think you’re talking about Washington right?
Johnson : The point I’m making is a very simple phone call to these individuals would’ve ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. This attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time and it was an assault. I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault, but I’m going back to Ambassador Rice five days later going to Sunday shows and what I would say is purposefully misleading the American public. Why wasn’t that known? And again I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing, but why weren’t we transparent to that point in time?
Clinton : Well first of all Senator, I would say that the once the assault happened, and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was number one taking care of their injuries. As I said, I still have a DS agent at Walter Reid seriously injured, getting them into Frankfurt, Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to start talking to them. We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. And we did not, I think this is accurate sir, I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows, and you know I just want to say that people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of you know misleading Americans. I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth. Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially? And I appreciate the --
Johnson : But Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? That was a piece of information that could’ve been easily, easily obtained?
Clinton : But Senator again—
Johnson : Within hours, if not days?
Clinton : Senator, you know, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one—
Johnson : I realize that a good excuse.
Clinton : Well no it’s the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorist, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown—
Johnson : No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that - an assault sprang out of that - and that was easily ascertained that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.
Clinton : With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they 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. Now honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process I understand going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear 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 the meantime.
Johnson : Okay, thank you Madame Secretary.