WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, facing tough questions from Senate Republicans on the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, insisted Wednesday that she has moved aggressively to address security weaknesses laid bare by the assault.
In long-awaited testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton acknowledged her personal responsibility as head of the State Department, and stressed that she has begun implementing all 29 corrective steps recommended by an in-house investigative board.
“I take responsibility,” said Clinton, whose appearance before the committtee was delayed for a month by a stomach flu, a concussion and a brief hospitalization. “Nobody is more committed to getting this right.”
At the same time, Clinton said she hadn’t seen specific requests for additional security personnel for the lightly protected diplomatic mission in Benghazi, saying those requests went to lower ranking “security professionals” at the State Department.
“I did not see these requests,” she said. “I did not approve them. I did not deny them.”
Clinton’s voice broke as she described seeing the bodies of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in the attack as they arrived on a miltary cargo plane in Maryland.
“I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters,” she said.
She said that 85% of the review committee’s recommendations are “on track” to be implemented by the end on March. She will testify again Wednesday afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Republicans sought to make the administration’s flawed handling of security at the Benghazi mission a political issue during the presidential campaign. But it’s unclear if they can open important new avenues of inquiry to keep the controversy alive. Clinton’s job approval ratings remain high as she prepares to step down from office — and perhaps consider a 2016 presidential run.
Clinton and the Senate committee also discussed the terrorism risks in North Africa, which have become painfully apparent in recent days with a bloody attack on an international gas field facility in Algeria.
She said many people wondered why the Pentagon created a new military command for Africa a few years ago. Now, she said, the question was whether Africa Command doesn’t need a large increase to its budget to deal with the expanding terror threat.