The House Foreign Affairs Committee had its turn to grill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the attacks on the U. S. consulate in Benghazi, and Republicans continued to focus on the initial statements by State Department officials that attributed the attacks to protests over an anti-Muslim film. One Republican, Rep. Jeff Duncan, accused Clinton of “gross negligence” and of allowing the consulate to “become a death trap.”
Duncan, R-S.C., referenced Clinton’s testimony before the Senate earlier in the day, in which she blew up at Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., for accusing the State Department of misleading the American people when it blamed the attack on the protests.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton fired back at Johnson. “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? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”
“I’ll tell you what difference it makes,” Duncan said at the House hearing. “It makes a difference when Americans think they were misled about something for political reasons.”
“Madame Secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap,” Duncan said, “and that’s national security malpractice. You said you’d take responsibility. What does responsibility mean Madame Secretary? You’re still in your job. And there are four people at the Department of State that have culpability in this that are still in their jobs.”
“This was gross negligence. At what point in time can our Administration and our government fire someone?” he asked.
Another Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, also honed in on why the attacks were originally attributed to the protests, which were thought to be a response to an anti-Muslim film. ”Over and over and over again it was repeated that we had enraged the Islamic terrorists,” Rohrabacher said. “When you say that we enraged the Islamic terrorists, that means we’re at fault, they’re not at fault. Then to look and see that the only people who are in jail right now is the filmmaker.”
Clinton reiterated: “Of course it was a terrorist attack. The very next day I called it an attack.”
“I think there are still however questions about exactly what caused it, who the attackers were,” she continued. “The [Accountability Review Board], after months of research, said the picture is still very complicated.”
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., returned the focus to Ambassador Susan Rice, asking Clinton “what evidence was so compelling” to Rice that caused her to make those statements about the attacks being related to protests, on the same day that Libyan leaders said it was not. Did they have better intelligence, Brooks asked, or was it just that “Libyan leaders were that much more willing to be candid?”
“There was evidence, and the evidence was being sifted and analyzed by the intelligence community,” Clinton replied. “Which is why the intelligence community was the principle decider of what went into talking points.” She added: “So it was much more complex than I think we’re giving it credit for.”
Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.