Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed an undiplomatic loss of cool as she testified before the Senate on January 23 about the September 11, 2012 attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Responding to questions from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Secretary Clinton raised her voice and banged her fist and said "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
Having lost her cool, Clinton shouted, "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 decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?"
Senator Johnson, a Republican who has been identified as representing Tea Party sentiments, said that he believed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice "intentionally misled" the American people in initial aftermath of the attack. Clinton brushed off the charge and said "nothing could be further from the truth." As the senator pressed Clinton on Ambassador Rice’s initial statements about the attack, Clinton shouted him down before he could finish his question. "Give me a break, Senator Johnson. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," she added.
In her testimony, Clinton admitted that she felt some responsibility for the deaths of the ambassador and companions. "As I have said many times, 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," she said. "For me, it's personal."
"We have come a long way in the past four years and we cannot afford to retreat now. When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, our security at home is threatened," Clinton said. "Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we accept a level of risk to protect this country we love. And they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation." She added that U.S. diplomats "cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. So it is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need and to do everything we can to reduce the risks."
Clinton admitted also that last September's attack on the Benghazi consulate is part of wider terrorist activity in North Africa.Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Benghazi attack is just one example of the broader strategic challenge for the United States and African allies in the fight against terrorism. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is the chairman of the committee but was not present at the hearing.
Speaking about the so-called Arab Spring, Clinton said "The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria." She asserted that the Obama administration is in close contact with Algerian authorities, for example, about last week's hostage situation at a natural gas plant near the Libyan border. “We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent terrorist attacks like this in the future," said Clinton.
Concerning security measures to be taken by the State Department, Clinton said she has accepted all of the recommendations from an independent review, and 85 percent of those will be completed by the end of March. "We are taking a top-to-bottom look, and rethinking how we make decisions on where, when, and how our people operate in high threat areas, and how we respond to threats and crises." Clinton said the United States continues to hunt the terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks and is determined to bring them to justice.
Clinton is to testify on the afternoon of January 23 before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The chairman of the House committee is Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican from California.