Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit back at claims of her "dropping interest" in security in Libya prior to the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.
Appearing before the Select Committee on Benghazi, Clinton rejected comments by two State Department staffers who described Clinton as disengaged and uninformed about security details in Libya a year after the United States overthrew long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The 2016 presidential hopeful was responding to a question from Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama. Quoting from emails between two staffers, Roby suggested Clinton was unaware that the safety situation in Benghazi –
and throughout Libya which was rapidly sinking into jihadist violence –
was falling apart.
"They were not on my staff," Clinton said of the two State Department employees. "They were in the State Department along with thousands of other people. They were not on the secretary’s staff."
Roby pressed Clinton, suggesting she seemed indifferent to crticisms made by State professionals during her time in the top spot at Foggy Bottom. Clinton waved aside the charge that she was dismissing commentary from her former staffers.
"I’m just saying I don’t have any recollection of it," Clinton said.
Clinton has been under fire since the committee was convened a year and a half ago to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya that left four U.S. nationals dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Over the course of the investigation, the committee discovered that Clinton – who served as President Obama's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 –
conducted all official correspondence from a nondescript email account on a pseudonymously registered server in her home.
Clinton also responded to Roby's questions about the small number of security staffers at the embattled embassy. Following some back-and-forth with Roby, Clinton conceded that Stevens had only the minimum five-person security detail, two of whom Stevens brought himself from Tripoli.
"He decided to go to Benghazi," Clinton said. "He had the requisite security."
Clinton also objected to claims that her department ignored requests for more protection, adding, "I’m not saying he and the embassy got everything they requested. We know they didn’t." And she downplayed findings in a report on the security situation. "Well, it says there were deficiencies in two bureaus in the State Department," Clinton said.
The latest iteration of the committee hearings comes in the aftermath of remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy connecting a drop in Clinton’s polling numbers to the pressure asserted on her by the hearings, which some have taken to mean that the Republican-controlled House is using the issue as a political tool to attack Clinton’s reputation as she runs for president.
Clinton seized on McCarthy’s comments two weeks ago, quickly putting together an ad campaign featuring his remarks. Shortly afterward McCarthy dropped his bid to become the next Speaker of the House.
The former secretary of state and her supporters have called the Benghazi hearings a “phony scandal” meant to discredit her. The committee has cost $4.5 million since its inception and, according to many critics, has offered little insight into the events that transpired during the attack.
Clinton praised the efforts to save the embassy by the strongly outnumbered staff. "The security officers who were there did act heroically," she said. "They were overrun."