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Hillary Clinton Senate Hearing: Questions from Senators Flake, Coons, and McCain

Aired January 23, 2013 - 10:30   ET


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Senator, that's a really important and timely question, because certainly our cooperation around this crisis was exemplary. You know the president told the secretary and the chairman to do everything they possibly could, to spare no effort or resource. And we had a very good interagency response, as the ARB found. But the fact is, we have to look closely now at what more State and DOD can do together to prepare for contingencies such as this. And I think it's a challenge that needs to be taken up because in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, our diplomats and our-our military work closely together. But as we saw in Iraq when the military left, you know that was putting a lot of burdens on our civilians in Iraq that are very difficult for us to be able to address, because we relied on our DOD colleagues for so much. Similarly as we're starting to look at the drawdown in Afghanistan, what kind of civilian presence are we going to be able to leave there? And what can DOD do to help us to try to determine what that can and should be? And I think you get a-a sense of the challenge of this from a statement that Admiral Mullen made. You know, he said, and I quote, "On the night of the attacks, Benghazi, Tripoli and Washington communicated and coordinated effectively with each other. They looked in the military right away. The interagency response was timely, and appropriate. But there was simply not enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference. Having said that"- Admiral Mullen goes on-"it is not reasonable, nor feasible to tether U.S. forces at the ready to respond to protect every high-risk post in the world." So, we have to look at this from both the State Department and the DOD perspective, and we don't have assets of any significance right now on the African continent. We're only building that up. And so what do we need in Africa? What countries will welcome us there? Give us both our military and civilian teams a-a good, safe base out of which to operate? So, if we're focusing just on Africa, and particularly North Africa right now, there's got to be a-a great deal of planning and coordination between DOD and AFRICOM, and between the State Department, and the rest of the administration. SHAHEEN: Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Senator Flake?

SEN. JEFFRY FLAKE, ( R) ARIZONA: Thank you Madam Secretary. Thank you for your testimony, and also thank you, as others have said, for your service. Traveling over a million miles, and more than 100 countries, I think those who -- those of us who haven't done it, cannot appreciate how difficult that is, and-and the commitment that you've had to it over the years. I thank you. With regard to the appearance of Dr. Rice on the morning shows, you mentioned that you did not select her. Were you consulted in that decision?


FLAKE: After...

CLINTON: No, but it wouldn't be-it would not be in any way unusual for Ambassador Rice to represent the administration on a-on a foreign relations issue.

FLAKE: Right, and I-I don't think it was either. But-but afterwards, after she testified, it was clear that what she testified to was at variance with a lot of communications from the State Department. And a lot of the-a lot of the-the information that had been gathered, and things that had been said by yourself and others at the State Department. Can you just enlighten us a bit as to discussions that went on at the State Department after that testimony? Was there-I mean these are professionals that you oversee, who do a lot of hard work to give analysis in this-this kind of assessment. What she said was clearly at variance with a lot of the-the research and analysis that had gone on about the nature of these attacks. Can you just enlighten us as to the discussion? What discussions were had at the State Department after this testimony?

CLINTON: Well, I don't-I don't think-I-I cannot speak to any conversation I specifically had, because the conversations were ongoing before, and after Ambassador Rice's appearance on the-on the Sunday talk shows. And we did not conclude finally that there were no protests at all until days after the attack. So maybe it was an abundance of caution, maybe it was trying to make sure we didn't step on anybody's toes while we were gathering information. Maybe it was because the I.C. was still looking at all of their sources, and- and- and having different threads coming in.

But, you know as the ARB said, even-even today, the motivations, the- the actions before they went on to the compound, all of that is still not nailed down. So I think we-we were trying very hard to provide information. Maybe one of the lessons learned here is, you know just withhold. Don't say what you don't know for sure, until it's finally decided. But that's not part of who we are as Americans, and as public officials. We get out there, we say, here's what we think happened, it's subject to change.

And so, I think we-we all wish that nobody had ever in any way raised doubts, but certainly Ambassador Rice and all of the other administration officials were speaking off of what had been determined were the-the most acceptable talking points.

FLAKE: Well, I-I think we know now that the talking points- we don't exactly know where they were changed, or how they were changed, but they were changed, or-or altered. And I-I think that we can all concede that we were not given a clear picture of what went on.


CLINTON: Well-but, Senator, in-you know we didn't have a clear picture. I wish I could sit here today and tell you that within days- within a week, by September 20 when we came up here we had a clear picture. We did not have a clear picture. And that, you know if you wish to fault the administration, it's that we didn't have a clear picture, and we probably didn't do as clear a job explaining that we did not have a clear picture, until days later, creating what I-I think are legitimate questions, you know?

I-I understand. I've been on the other side of the table. I understand trying to figure out what was going on, and why were we told this, that, and the other? But I-I can only assure you that as the information came to light, and as people thought it was reliable, we shared it. But that took some time.

FLAKE: Thank you. And the remaining seconds left, you mentioned that many of the recommendations have now been put in place. There are protocols in place to make sure that if security is not adequate, that we move our-our diplomats and others to places where they're more secure, or whatever. But, let me just say, there were protocols in place before this. There were tripwires that we tripped.

And-and the actions that were outlined to be taken, were not taken. How can we be assured here that the new protocols that are in place with these new recommendations being implemented, will be followed, or adhered to? Because they clearly weren't before.

CLINTON: Well, Senator I-I want to make clear that no one in the State Department, the intelligence community, any other agency ever recommended that we close Benghazi. We were clear-eyed a about the- the threats and the dangers as they were developing in Eastern Libya, and in Benghazi. But there was no decision made, and nothing that prompted such a decision. Now, I-sitting here today, we have probably at least 20 other posts that are under a serious threat environment, as I-as I speak to you.

We are working with the other agencies in our government, some of whom are co-located with us. Others of whom are nearby. We are constantly assessing. and sometimes we get it wrong, but it's very- it's rare that we get it wrong. This was one of those terrible tragic times when, you know there was an assessment shared by the ambassador, shared by others that turned out not to take into account the-the militants attacking that night.

So I can tell you there-there are, as you say tripwires. But what we're going to try to do is elevate the discussion and the decision making so that there's not any doubt that everybody is on the same page, that we're not missing information, we're not husbanding resources, and thereby making less than optimal decisions. That's what we're going to try to institutionalize going forward.

MENENDEZ: Thank you. Senator Coons?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS, (D) DELAWARE: I want to thank Senator Menendez for chairing this critically important hearing, and to thank you Secretary Clinton, for testifying today. We deeply regret that you were unable to appear before due to your illness. And I'm thrilled to see you've made a full recovery. I want to start by just thanking you for your remarkable leadership as secretary of State, one of many stops in the million miles that you've traveled, and the 112 countries you've visited. One such stop we shared jointly on a trip to Liberia for the second inauguration of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson.

COONS: And it gave me an opportunity as a freshman senator to see up close your remarkable skills and stamina and your determination. In my view, your leadership has helped restore America's credibility, build bridges with our international partners, and you've also built bridges here on the Hill where your leadership at State is respected on both sides of the aisle and has been widely praised.

While your likely successor, Senator Kerry, has my full confidence, you will be deeply missed. You said in your opening statement you're determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure. And in my view, because of your leadership, they are.

Today, we continue the consideration of the recommendations of the advisory review board, which found that security was, quote, "grossly inadequate" to deal with the attack that took place in Benghazi in September. The mistakes that were made are simply unacceptable. And I'm pleased that the State Department has begun to promptly implement the board's recommendations thanks to your leadership.

I know you agree that the massive security failures such as those witnessed in Benghazi that cost the lives of four brave Americans simply cannot happen again. And I look forward to working with my colleagues on this committee in a searching review of the resources needed and the State Department structure to ensure that we do better to protect our diplomats and other Americans who put their lives at risk each and every day.

As chairman of the Africa Subcommittee, I'm particularly pleased that you have drawn for this committee today in your testimony the links between this tragic incident in Benghazi, the recent terrorist incident in Algeria, and the unfolding challenges in Mali. I chaired a hearing on Mali on December 5th and have been impressed with your engaged leadership visits to Algeria, sort of raising the alarm about AQIM.

And I welcome your testimony today on how you see the regional threats from AQIM; how you see the consequences of this recent incident in Algeria; and what role you think there is for the United States in both supporting the current actions by the French and the Malian military, and the need for our ongoing insurance investment to restore democracy in Mali, to restore development and some positive prospects moving forward for the people of Mali, and how you think we can ensure that State and Defense are coordinating through AFRICOM in west and north Africa going forward.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, I appreciate greatly your sustained attention to Africa. And I think it's going to be viewed as quite prophetic because there will be, I believe, a continuing set of challenges. You mentioned some of them, but by no means we, you know, we've got Boko Haram in Nigeria posing the threat of instability to one of the most important oil-producing nations in the world, something very important to our country. We've got other unrest and challenges coming down the west coast of Africa.

But we also have a success story, at least a-a hoped-for beginning success story in Somalia. And what did the United States do there? You know, when I became secretary of state, I recommitted American money to the UNISON forces. We worked to train the Ugandans and the Burundis and others. We worked with the Kenyans when they went in. We worked with the Djiboutis.

It took time. There was not-there were no shortcuts. But we had literally the boots of our American soldiers and the boots of American diplomats on the ground. I visited one of the-the training camps in Uganda. And what we have to do is recognize we're in for a long-term struggle here. And that means we've got to pay attention to places that historically we have not chosen to or had to.

So, I would hope that this committee can make that case to the rest of the Congress. We're now looking at, you know, troops coming from other neighboring African countries. We can't just send them into Mali. They don't have training to do that. We're going to have to work with other partners to train them and equip them, and then to sustain them, just like we did with the troops in Somalia.

So, you know, four years ago, Al Shabaab was one of the biggest threats not only to east Africa, but to the United States. We have a chance to really continue on a-on a positive track there, but it didn't happen by accident. It took American money, American know-how, American experience. And we have to make the decision we're going to do the same in North Africa as well.

COONS: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I certainly look forward to continuing to get your advice, direction and encouragement as I try to work with my colleagues here to ensure the same sort of success going forward in west Africa that we've recently enjoyed in east Africa. Thank you for your testimony.

MENENDEZ: Senator McCain?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R ) ARIZONA: Thank you, Madam Secretary. It's wonderful to see you in good health and as combative as ever.


It's-we thank you. We thank you for your outstanding and dedicated service to this nation, and we are proud of you. All over the world where I travel, you are viewed with admiration and respect.

Four months, or months after the Benghazi tragedy-it's a tragedy when we lose four brave Americans-there are many questions that are unanswered. And the answers, frankly, that you've given this morning are not satisfactory to me.

Were you and the president made aware of the classified cable from Chris Stevens that said that the United States consulate in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault? Numerous warnings, including personally to me, about the security were unanswered or unaddressed. It took a CNN reporter looking through the consulate to find Chris Stevens' last warning.

When were you made aware of that cable? When were you made aware of the attack on the British ambassador and the assassination attempts and the closing of the consulate there? And what actions were taken? What was the president's activities during that seven-hour period?

On the anniversary of the worst attack in American history, September 11th, we didn't have Department of Defense forces available for seven hours. Two brave Americans died in the last hour. With all these warnings, all these things (inaudible), we didn't have a single Department of Defense asset apparently available to come to these (sic) rescue.

I categorically reject your answer to Senator Johnson about, "Well, we didn't ask these survivors, who were flown to Ramstein the next day, that they-that this was not a spontaneous demonstration." To say that it's because an investigation was going on? The American people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don't deserve false answers. And the answers that were given the American people on September 15th by the ambassador to the United Nations were false-in fact, contradicted by the classified information which was kept out of the secretary (sic) to the United Nations' report, who by the way in the president's words, "had nothing to do with Benghazi," which questions why she was sent out to start with.

Why is it that the administration still refuses to provide the full text of the e-mails regarding the deletion of references to Al Qaida and terrorism in the talking points? Why do we care? Because if the classified information had been included, it gives an entirely different version of events to the American people.

Going to the American people and tell them what happened, then you ought to have your facts straight, including, the ambassador said, quote, "Al Qaida is decimated and our consulates and embassies are secure."

So, here we are four months later and we still don't have the basic information. Now, if you want to go out and tell the American people what happened, you should at least have interviewed the people who were there, instead of saying, "No, we couldn't talk to them because an FBI investigation was going on."

And by the way, as I said at the time-I just happened to be on one of those talk shows-people don't bring RPGs and mortars to spontaneous demonstrations. That's a fundamental. And of course, the president continued to say days afterwards-September the 12th, he made a reference to acts of terror, September 12th on "60 Minutes," "too early to know"; September 20th on Univision, "We're still doing an investigation"; September 24th on "The View", "We're still doing an investigation."

The president of the United States as late as September 24th, two weeks later, did not acknowledge that this was an act of terror conducted by people who were at least somehow connected to the Al Qaida. Finally, Madam Secretary, I strongly disagree with your depiction of what we did after Gadhafi fell. We did not provide the security that was needed. We did not help them with border security. We did not give them the kind of assistance that would have been necessary to help dismantle these militias that still to this day remain a challenge to democracy in Libya and freedom.

You knew Chris Stevens very well. I knew him very well. I knew him on July 7th when I went to Libya to observe the elections. And at that time, on July 7th, he expressed to me his deep and grave concerns about security, particularly in Benghazi. And he continued to communicate with the State Department, and I don't know who else was privy to those cables, of his deep concern about the security there and the need for additional assistance.

And I will argue with-with-with facts that after that event took place, after the fall of Gadhafi, the, quote, "soft footprint" was partially, to some degree, responsible for the tragedy that- that took place. The American people and the families of these four brave Americans still have not gotten the answers that they deserve. I hope that they will get them.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, I understand your very, very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris. You were one of the staunchest supporters of the efforts to dislodge Gadhafi and try to give the Libyan people a chance. And we just have a disagreement. We have a disagreement about what did happen and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events.

We did get to talk to the D.S. agents when they got back to this country. We did so. It was not before September 15th. We had no access to the surveillance cameras for weeks, which helped to answer a number of questions. But with respect to helping the Libyans-and that also goes to the question Senator Rubio asked-we will provide a list of everything we were doing and were attempting to do. But I will also tell you that since March 2011, congressional holds have been placed on programs for many months for aid to Libya.

We've had frequent congressional complaints. Why are we doing anything for Libya? It's a wealthy country. It has oil. Disagreement from some sources that we should never have been part of any U.N. mission in Libya. Currently, the House has holds on bilateral security assistance, on other kinds of support for anti- terrorism assistance. So we've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority and if we are serious about trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together.

So I hope that we can have the kind of discussion where we can agree on certain approaches that will make a difference. We-and I -- again, I would urge that you look and read both the classified and unclassified versions of the ARB that tries to deal with the very questions that you and Senator Johnson are raising, the timing of it and the like. But I also hope we're looking forward. Because right now Libya is still dangerous. It is still in a very unstable status. And whatever we can do for them, we at least ought to agree we need to do and get out there and start delivering.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. (inaudible)


MENENDEZ: Madam Secretary, I want to honor our commitment to you to try to keep you within a certain time frame, knowing you have to also go before the House. I also want to honor the opportunity for every member to ask a question. So I appreciate your very thorough and thoughtful answers, but to some degree, you will dictate your own time frame.

With that, Senator Durbin.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here. Excuse me, it was a little more than four years ago that a number of your colleagues, myself included, encouraged you to take on this responsibility, believing you would have a profound impact on the world and the diplomacy of the United States, and you have. Thank you so much for all you've done.

I also want to say a word on behalf of Ambassador Rice, an extraordinary individual who has served this country well. I think some of the criticism that was heaped on her was unfair and did not reflect the fact that she was reporting the best information she had available at the time. And, as you've said, more information became available, and it was dutifully reported.

I do want to make one point, for the record here, about whether the American people are told everything right away, in the right way, so that they can be fully informed. And I'd like to refer to five words for them to reflect on, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

We were told by every level of government here there were Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that justified a war, the invasion of the United States. We're still searching for those weapons. They didn't exist. Thousands of Americans lost their lives. We could have a hearing on that, if you'd like. The point I'm trying to get to is, two extraordinarily talented individuals, Admiral Mullen and maybe one of the best diplomats of our time, Ambassador Pickering, did a thorough review here, found shortcomings of our people overseas and reported them honestly. You not only initiated that review, you accepted its findings in their totality, no cover-up, an attempt to be totally honest and to make sure a tragedy like this never occurs again.

The second point I'd like to make is this. Some on the committee have already criticized the notion that this is about money. They might argue, you can't solve a problem by throwing money at it. Madam Secretary, you can't solve a problem by throwing money at it unless the problem is lack of money. And what I understand you to testify, is you have asked this Congress for the authority to transfer existing funds to protect ambassadors and diplomatic personnel around the world, and you've been refused by the House of Representatives. They will not give you the authority to even take existing funds.

If I'm not mistaken, in a few weeks, your department is going to face sequestration. And we not only won't have additional funds, we will cut some $50 million when it comes to construction of facilities to protect people who represent the United States overseas and cut money for the individuals necessary to protect those same diplomats. So I'd like you to comment. How can we keep our commitment to be a leader in the world in the area of diplomacy, in state craft, to avoid the necessity of war if we don't give the most basic resources to your department, which commands, as I understand it, about 1.5 percent of the federal budget.

CLINTON: Actually it's less than one, but let's not quibble. Look, I-I am well aware that there are deficiencies and inadequacies in the department. I went about doing what I could in the four years I had through the QDDR process, through creating some additional incentives and changes in culture to try to assist everybody in the State Department and USAID to do as much as they could with whatever they had.

There's, you know-because, you know, we-we-we we were never going to reach parity with the Defense Department. We were always going to be one-twelfth, or less, of the budget. That was fine. But to do what we can (ph) -- but at the same time, we have asked for the funds we think we need to be able to fulfill the mission you have described, Senator Durbin. And we need the help of this committee.

I mean, I-I am one who believes that we have to both walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to deal with our own economy and our-our fiscal situation. That is a given, because that is the source of our strength and our capacity. But we also have to be smart about making the right investments in diplomacy and development to try to solve problems and prevent them.

So, you know, I-I have outlined what should be a no-brainer. Let us have the permission to take money we already have. We're not asking for more money and put it to work where the ARB told us to do. And then let's look at the budget as we move forward. Now, if sequestration will be very damaging to the State Department and USAID if it does come to pass, because it throws the baby out with the bath.

Are there programs that we could reduce, make more efficient? Yes, that's part of what I've been trying to do, is to push that forward. And that's what the QDDR process was about. But there are also a lot of very essential programs, first and foremost the security of our personnel in dangerous places that we can't afford to cut more of. And so I hope we get the transfer authority and then have a sensible budget discussion going forward.