Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the early response from the Obama administration regarding the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Amb. Chris Stevens.
But she would not weigh in on the growing controversy about when exactly members of the Obama administration knew the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate was carried out by terrorists or whether senior administration members knew that State Department security officials were concerned about the situation at the embassy in the months leading up to the attack.
Clinton took questions from reporters following a bilateral meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, and was asked about Vice President Joe Biden’s assertion during Thursday night’s debate that the administration was unaware of requests for increased security at the consulate.
Biden’s comment would seem to be contradicted by testimony a day earlier on Capitol Hill from a State Department security official that he had repeatedly requested more security.
Clinton said there is still an internal investigation, and an FBI investigation going on, and that she is cooperating with both.
“There is much we still don’t know, and I am the first to say that,” she said.
“There is nobody in the administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened,” said Clinton. “We are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again anywhere.”
But Clinton said the circumstances surrounding the attack are still, more than a month later, not completely clear.
“To this day we do not have a complete picture, we do not have all the answers,” she said. “No one in this administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us have made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time. And that information continues to be updated. It also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood.”
Today Clinton defended Rice.
“Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community that every other senior official did,” said Clinton. “We can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack and what led up to it.”
There is more than one legal eagle around this dump and I’m sure they will all back me up when I say that part of legal training is learning how to parse words carefully. It applies to things like writing contracts, understanding statutes and nailing down witness testimony. Lawyers focus on precise language more than any other profession.
Lets ignore the characterizations made by ABC and see what Hillary Clinton really said:
MS. NULAND: We’ll take one from each side today. Let’s start with CNN, Jill Doherty.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Madam Secretary, in the debate – the Vice Presidential Debate last night, there was one thing that the Vice President said, which was, “That is what intelligence told us.” And there’s just one issue that seems so very basic that I’m finding it difficult to understand why it’s not clear, and that is whether or not there actually was a demonstration that night. Is there any clarity that you have at this moment about that?
And then also, could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, before I answer your question, I want to underscore what an invaluable partner Italy has been in our efforts to support a democratic Libya. Italy played a crucial role in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector to protect the civilian population from Qadhafi’s violence. More than 4,000 air missions were flown from Sigonella alone. And in the wake of the Benghazi tragedy, the support of Italy has been absolutely essential. In ways large and small, our Italian friends and partners helped us evacuate our people on September 11th. They helped us get the FBI team in and in so many other ways. So I personally want to thank you, Giulio, and thank you, through you, your government for everything that you have done. And as you said, we will continue to work together to try to stabilize Libya and give the Libyan people the kind of future that they have so clearly stated they want.
With respect to your questions, Jill, I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on. We have an Accountability Review Board that is just beginning its work. There is much we still don’t know. And I am the first to say that. But as someone who has been at the center of this tragedy from the beginning, I do know this: There is nobody in the Administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened. And we are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again – anywhere. And of course, we are, as a government, doing what it takes to track down those who were responsible.
To this day – to this day, we do not have a complete picture. We do not have all the answers. No one in this Administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us has made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time. And that information continues to be updated. It also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood through the process we are engaged in. Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community as every other senior official did.
And that’s the very way that I’m answering your question today, because we can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack and what led up to it. Obviously, we know more as time goes by and we will know even more than we did hours and days after the attack.
So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting. And I want us to keep in mind that four Americans were killed, four men who served our country. Dozens of Americans fought for their lives that night, and to honor them we all have to get to the bottom of every question and answer it to the best of our ability. And then we’ve got to be sure that we apply the lessons we learned to make sure that we protect everybody in harm’s way.
So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was —
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.
If you parse Hillary’s words you will see she didn’t say very much at all. She didn’t describe what she knows or when she learned it. The stuff about the investigation is a non sequitur. Yeah, there is an investigation going on but they will never know everything. Is there some reason they can’t tell us what they do know?
She didn’t really defend Susan Rice. She just said that Rice knew what every senior official knew. But was Rice telling the truth? Hillary didn’t say.
From a professional standpoint I have to give Hillary an A+ for her answer. She gave what kinda seems like a substantive answer but isn’t. There is nothing in there that can be called a lie or used against her.
I have mad respect and admiration for Hillary Clinton but she has to be held accountable just like anyone else. At some point she is going to have to provide better answers than she has provided so far.
But I recognize that she has to walk a fine line. She has a duty of loyalty to her boss. But she is also a Cabinet officer who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. Many of the things she knows are classified as state secrets. She has her own career and legacy to think of. Obviously some of those are more important than others.
It is possible that Hillary is working hard to cover-up the truth about what happened in Benghazi. It is equally possible that she is working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the truth comes out and the people responsible are held accountable.
I am willing to be patient and to withhold judgment for the time being. But my patience isn’t endless.