Return to Transcripts main page


Clinton To Testify To House Cmte

Aired January 23, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And at this moment, Hillary Clinton comes face to face with lawmakers who want to know why.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

New word of warnings that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not safe, and they come from one of the Americans killed.

Plus --


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I put my arms around the mother and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.


BALDWIN: What today means for Hillary Clinton's legacy.

Want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Brooke Baldwin at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

Any minute inside this room on Capitol Hill, testimony four months in the making. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the House Foreign Affairs committee about what happened on September 11th of last year. The day when these four Americans, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

BALDWIN: Jake, I want to bring you back in and I want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash so we can just have this whole conversation as we are watching and awaiting the secretary of state there to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

And, Dana Bash, do we have you seated?


BALDWIN: Hey, Dana, nice to see you.

BASH: You too.

BALDWIN: As we await what will possibly be a little bit more fiery, right, questioning from members of the House as opposed to what we saw with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this morning. First just give me a little bit of a preview. What are you hearing, what are you expecting to come from this, this afternoon?

BASH: You know, we're probably going to hear very similar lines of questioning that we heard, especially from Republicans in this Senate. It got maybe a little bit more fiery, a little bit more intense in the Senate than we would have anticipated. We do anticipate that kind of atmosphere in the House. It's just kind of the way the House tends to be. The House is run by Republicans. And even the House Republican chair anticipated it to be that kind of atmosphere because I was told that he mentioned to Republicans on the committee that he wants to make sure that they are respectful.

You know, there is widespread respect for Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats, it goes without saying, but there also tends to be some showmanship at these hearings. I know that you're really shocked by that, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Not at all.

BASH: And the chairman understands that especially from some of the newer members who might want to make some names for themselves.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Bob Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer. He spent two decades as a field officer.

Bob, are you there?

All right, we're waiting for Bob.

But, Dana, I want to ask you a question. Based on the Senate hearing this morning, what most surprised you in the two and a half hours of testimony we heard this morning?

BASH: You know, what most surprised me was probably what surprised a lot of people out there who has watched Hillary Clinton for decades, like we have, and that is the way she got so emotional. I mean this is a woman who has been through more than any single human being in the public eye. Whether going back to the impeachment trial, Monica Lewinsky, her failed attempt at the presidency in 2008.

But clearly this is something that really strikes her at her heart. She felt responsibility for Chris Stevens, who was a close friend, clearly somebody she thought was amazing at his job. And it was really, really difficult for her to get through this. The same kind of reaction we're seeing from John McCain, because he also was close with Chris Stevens, but obviously he's handling it in a very different kind of way because he's -- he wants -- he's the question asker and Hillary Clinton is the person who just, you know, again, bears that responsibility. It's clearly weighing very heavily on her.

TAPPER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken her seat before the House Foreign Relations -- I'm sorry, Foreign Affairs Committee.

But we do now have Bob Baer, the former Middle East CIA field officer with us.

And, Bob, I wanted to ask you, what do you make of the fact that it has been almost four months, or it's actually over four months, and we still don't have anybody in custody responsible for the attack in Benghazi. Is this a failure of intelligence gathering, a failure of the government in Libya to cooperate? What exactly are you hearing?

BOB BAER, FORMER MIDDLE EAST CIA FIELD OFFICER: Well, I think it falls on the shoulders of the Libyans to find these people. Libya's a chaotic country right now. The attack on Algeria, Libya played some part -- not at the state, but groups in Libya. It's hard to find people when there's no central authority. And also for American intelligence, it's a fairly new -- it's a new scene. And collecting data takes years on this. So I'm not surprised at all.

What worries me is the Libyans seem to be making no progress at all. They have nobody of significance in jail and they haven't even named anybody. And it's going to be a long time before we run this to ground, whether we do or not. I don't know.

TAPPER: All right, we're going to hear more from Bob Baer in a minute and our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash sitting here with me. But the hearing has begun. So let's take a listen at this hearing right now.


REP. ED ROYCE, R-CALIFORNIA: -- level below the department's most senior management. This seems to contrast with the recommendation of the 1990 -- 1999 Accountability Review Board on the East Africa bombings which said, that quote, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in security issues.

This committee is concerned that the department's most senior officials either should have known about the worsening security situation in Benghazi or did know something about that security situation.

Either way -- either way, the point is that security requests were denied. So I'm not sure the board -- I'm not sure the board here saw the full picture. And if not, it's report is not a complete blueprint for fixing things. The State Department must get this right. Al Qaida and its affiliates will very likely be targeting other diplomats for years to come.

Madam Secretary, the committee stands ready to help. I learned this morning that you and the administration have proposed legislation to fix the review board which the committee looks forward to considering.

Today's discussion may turn to funding, but when reading the conclusions of the board, one must ask how more money would have made a difference in a bureaucracy plagued by what the board called systemic failures. After all, as the security situation in Libya worsened, the State Department turned away free security assets from the Department of Defense. State Department officials have testified that funding was not an issue, more resources may have been needed in some areas but the tragedy of Benghazi was rooted in bad decisions.

Finally, the Benghazi perpetrators must be apprehended or they must be killed. It's troubling that Tunisia recently released a key suspect. Poor Libyan cooperation has hampered the FBI's investigation.

Success here is a matter of justice and it's also a matter of signaling to militants that there is no place for them to hide if they attack U.S. personnel.

I will now turn to the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Engel for his opening remarks.

ENGEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important meeting. I hope we can use this as an opportunity to seriously examine the steps we need to take to prevent a repeat of the tragedy in Benghazi rather than engaging in got you politics that make it more difficult to achieve this bipartisan goal.

ENGEL: Madam Secretary, as the new ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, let me say on behalf of the Democratic members of this committee, we'd like to welcome you back to our committee and we're glad that you're feeling better.

This will likely be your final appearance before our committee and I want to take this opportunity to let you know how much we appreciate your outstanding and tireless efforts to represent our country in the international community. I have no doubt that you will continue to serve our nation in some capacity as you have for so many years and I look forward to working with you in the future.

And might I add as a New Yorker, I feel especially proud of the wonderful and outstanding job you've done as Secretary of State.

I think that when we look at the -- the outstanding Secretary of States in our -- in our history of -- of our country, you will be right up there at the very, very top. The way you've worked, the tireless effort you had, crisscrossing the global so many times, you have just been indispensable to all of us as Americans and I just want to -- want to thank you personally on behalf of all the Democrats and behalf of all Americans, Democrats and Republicans, we really want to thank you.

Mr. Chairman, the committee has no greater responsibility that making sure that the men and women of the State Department and USAID and other public servants who work abroad are provided the security they deserve. We must do that -- what we can to minimize the threats faced by -- by our diplomats and aid workers but we must also recognize that some risk is inherent in the practice of effective diplomacy.

We cannot advance America's interests around the world if we isolate ourselves behind embassy walls or limit the deployment of our diplomats to low risk environments. Let's not learn the wrong lesson from today's hearing.

ENGEL: The Accountability Review Board, or ARB, convened by Secretary Clinton found a number of failures that resulted from the lack of leadership in two State Department bureaus as well as woefully inadequate local security in Benghazi.

Clearly mistakes were made. But let's be absolutely clear. Barack Obama was not responsible for the Benghazi attack anymore than George W. Bush was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or Ronald Reagan was responsible for the attacks on our Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed over 200 Marines.

And frankly, whether it was called a terrorist attack or not in the immediate aftermath, as far as I'm concerned, is irrelevant. We just have to make sure that it never happens again, so that in the future, our people are protected. That's what I want to get out of all of this.

So Madam Secretary, we commend you for accepting all of the ARB recommendations, and welcome your commitment to begin implementing them by the time you leave the department. Even before the ARB submitted its conclusions, the department moved to address certain shortcomings through its increased security proposal.

The vast majority of the funding for this proposal would come from funds previously appropriated for lower-priority programs. And I hope Congress will move without delay to give the department the transfer authority it needs to start applying these changes.

It is important to remember that security is not a worn-off (ph) endeavor. Indeed, it's a long-term responsibility and investment. In that context, the members of the ARB, led by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen highlighted the State Department's struggle to get the resources it needs.

The ongoing problem had led to a culture at the department in which some senior managers appeared to be more interested in conserving resources than in achieving specific goals. The ARB report says, quote, "The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs," unquote.

Regrettably, it's clear the Congress is still failing to meet this commitment. In the most recent State Department funding bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee, the administration's request for embassy security, construction and maintenance, was cut by $112 million, and worldwide security protection reduced by $149 million. The Senate, by comparison, did not cut either account. So let me again reiterate what I just said about Congress's responsibility. Over the past two years alone, the administration's request for diplomatic security funding has been slashed by more than half a billion dollars in Congress.

This makes it impossible for the State Department to build enough new secure diplomatic facilities, or improve those that already exist. The current appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 continues this negative trend.

The measure reported out of the House Appropriations Committee, (inaudible)-based funding for worldwide security protection, and embassy security, construction and maintenance, by more than $260 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee fully funded both requests.

So what I'm saying here is that we have much work to do to ourself -- for ourselves. If we truly want to maintain a global reach, then we need to make the necessary investments in safeguarding our personnel who serve in dangerous environments.

Mr. Chairman, you have indicated your intention to work on a State Department authorization bill. And I would like to work with you on a bipartisan manner to craft legislation that improves the department's ability to manage its resources, and provides the funding necessary to secure our people and facilities globally.

So I thank you, and I look forward to the secretary's testimony.

ROYCE: Thank you, Mr. Engel. To help us understand the State Department's response to the Benghazi attack, we are joined today by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 67th Secretary of State.

She has had a long career in public service. And for the past four years, Secretary Clinton has served as President Obama's secretary of state. She will soon move on to the next chapter in her distinguished career.

Madam Secretary, without objection, your full statement will be made part of the record. And all members here will have five days to submit statements and questions for the record, subject to the limitations of the committee rules.

Madam Secretary, please begin.

CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you, and the ranking member, and members of the committee, both of longstanding tenure, and brand-new members. And I appreciate your patience for me to be able to come to fulfill my commitment to you, actually to the former chairwoman, that I would be here to discuss the attack in Benghazi.

I appreciate this opportunity. I will submit my full testimony for the record. I want to make just a few points. First, the terrorist attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four brave Americans -- Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty -- are part of a broader strategic challenge to the United States and our partners in North Africa.

I think it's important we understand the context for this challenge, as we work together to protect our people and honor our fallen colleagues. Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Since 1977, 65 American diplomatic personnel have been killed by terrorists.

In addition to those who have been killed, we know what happened in Tehran, with hostages being taken in 1979; our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983; Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, 1996; our embassies in East Africa, 1998; Consulate staff murdered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2004, the coast attack in Afghanistan in 2009, and too many others.

But I also want to stress the list of attacks that were foiled, crises averted, and lives saved, is even longer. We should never forget that the security professionals get it right more than 99 percent of the time against difficult odds, because the terrorists only need to get it right once.

That's why, like all my predecessors, I trust the diplomatic security professionals with my life. Let's also remember that, as the chairman and the ranking member pointed out, administrations of both parties, in partnership with Congress, have made concerted and good- faith efforts to learn from the tragedies that have occurred, to implement recommendations from the review boards, to seek the necessary resources to better protect our people in a constantly- evolving threat environment.

In fact, Mr. Chairman, of the 19 Accountability Review Boards that have been held since 1988, only two have been made public. I want to stress that, because the two that have been made public, coming out of the East Africa embassy bombings, and this one, our attempts -- honest attempts by the State Department, by the secretary -- Secretary Albright and myself -- to be as transparent and open as possible.

We wanted to be sure that whatever these independent, non- partisan boards found, would be made available to the Congress, and to the American people. Because as I have said many times since September 11th, 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.

Now, taking responsibility meant not only moving quickly in those first uncertain hours and days to respond to the immediate crisis, but also to make sure we were protecting our people and posts in high- threat areas across the region and the world.

It also meant launching an independent investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi, and to recommend steps for improvement. And it also meant intensifying our efforts to combat terrorism, and support emerging democracies in North Africa and beyond.

Let me share briefly the lessons we have learned up until now. First, let's start on the night of September 11th itself, and those difficult early days. I directed our response from the State Department, and stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan government.

So I did see firsthand what Ambassador Pickering and Chairman Mullen called "timely and exceptional coordination." No delays in decision- making, no denials of support from Washington, or from our military.

And I want to echo the review board's praise for the valor and courage of our people on the ground, especially our security professionals in Benghazi and Tripoli. The board said our response saved American lives in real time, and it did. The very next morning, I told the American people, and I quote, "Heavily-armed militants assaulted our compound," and vowed to bring them to justice. And I stood later that day with President Obama as he spoke of an act of terror.

CLINTON: Now, you may recall at this same time period, we were also seeing violent attacks on our embassies in Cairo, Sana'a, Tunis and Khartoum, as well as large protests outside many other posts from India to Indonesia, where thousands of our diplomats serve. So I immediately ordered a review of our security posture around the world, with particular scrutiny for high-threat posts. And I asked the Department of Defense to join interagency security assessment teams, and to dispatch hundreds of additional Marine security guards.

I named the first deputy assistant secretary of State for high- treat posts, so that missions in dangerous places get the attention they need. And we reached out to Congress, to help address physical vulnerabilities, including risks from fire, and to hire additional diplomatic security personnel, and Marine security guards. Second, even as I took these steps, I quickly moved to appoint the Accountability Review Board, because I wanted them to come forward with their report before I left, because I felt the responsibility, and I wanted to be sure that I was putting in motion the response to whatever they found.

What was wrong? How do we fix it? I have accepted every one of their recommendations. Our deputy secretary for management and resources, Deputy Tom Nides who appeared before this committee last month, is leading a task force to ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly, and completely, as well as pursuing additional steps above, and beyond the board. I pledged in my letter to you last month, that implementation has now begun on all 29 recommendations. We've translated them into 64 specific action items. They were all assigned to specific bureaus and offices with clear timelines for completion.

Nearly 85 percent are on track to be completed by the end of March, with a number completed already. But, we're also taking a top to bottom look to rethink how we make decisions on where, when and whether our people should operate in high-threat areas, and how we respond. We are initiating an annual high-threat post review, shared for the first time in American history, I suppose, by the secretary of State. And ongoing reviews by the deputy secretaries to ensure that pivotal questions about security reach the highest level.

And we will regularize protocols for sharing information with Congress. Now in addition to the immediate action we took, and the review board process, we're moving on a third front; addressing the broader strategic challenge in North Africa, and the wider region. Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics, and shattered security forces across the region. 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 just saw last week in Algeria.

And let me offer our deepest condolences to the families of the Americans, and all of the people from many nations killed and injured in the Algerian hostage crisis. We remain in close touch with the government of Algeria, ready to provide assistance if needed, and also seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so we can work together to prevent such terrorist attacks in the future. Now concerns about terrorism and instability in North Africa are not new, of course.

Indeed they've been a top priority for this entire national security team. But we need to work together to accelerate a diplomatic campaign to increase pressure on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups in the region. I have conferred with the president of Libya, the foreign ministers and prime ministers of Tunisia, and Morocco. Two weeks later after the attack, I met with a very large group of regional leaders at the U.N., and was part of a special meeting focused on Mali, and the Sahel.

In October, I flew to Algeria to discuss the fight against AQIM. In November I sent Deputy Secretary Bill Burns on an interagency group to Algiers to continue that conversation. And then in my stead, he co- chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum, that was held in Abu Dabi, and a meeting in Tunis working not only on building new democracies, but on reforming security services.

These are just a few of the constant diplomatic engagements that we are having, focused on targeting al-Qaeda's syndicate of terror. Closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering their extremist ideology, slowing the flow of new recruits. We continue to hunt the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi, and are determined to bring them to justice. And we're using our diplomatic and economic tools to support the emerging democracies, including Libya in order to give them the strength to provide a path away from extremism.

And finally, the United States must continue to lead, in the Middle East, in North Africa, and around the globe. We've 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, and our security at home is threatened. That's why Chris Stevens went to Benghazi in the first place. I asked him to go. During the beginning of the revolution against Gadhafi, we needed somebody in Benghazi who could begin to build bridges with the insurgents, and to begin to demonstrate that America would stand against Gadhafi.

Nobody knew the dangers, or the opportunities better than Chris. First during the revolution, and then during the transition. A weak Libyan government, marauding militias, even terrorist groups, a bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel. He never wavered. He never asked to come home. He never said, let's shut it down, quit and go somewhere else, because he understood it was critical for America to be represented in that place, at that pivotal time. So, Mr. Chairman we do have to work harder, and better to balance the risks and the opportunities. Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we do accept a level of risk to represent, and protect the country we love. They represent the best traditions of a bold, and generous nation. They cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. But it is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need to do those jobs, and to do everything we can to reduce the risks they face. For me, this is not just a matter of policy, it's personal because I've had the great honor to lead the men and women of the State Department and USAID.

Nearly 70,000 serving here in Washington, and at more than 275 posts around the world. They get up, and go to work every day, often in difficult, and dangerous circumstances, thousands of miles from home, because they believe the United States is the most extraordinary force for peace, and progress the earth has ever known. And when we suffer tragedies overseas, the number of Americans apply to the Foreign Service actually increases.

That tells us everything we know -- need to know about the kind of patriots I'm talking about. They do ask what they can do for their country, and America is stronger for it. So, today after four years in this job, traveling nearly a million miles, and visiting 112 countries, my faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words "United States of America", touches down in some far off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world's indispensable nation.

And I am confident that with your help, we will continue to keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional. And I would be very happy to answer your questions.

ROYCE: Thank you Madam Secretary. I think our State Department personnel do certainly accept a level of risk, and -- and they do so in order, as you've said quite properly, to continue to lead. But -- and we recognize I think, that hindsight is 20/20. But with regard to the Benghazi attacks, what is probably most disturbing, as the question comes before the committee, and as the media looks at the situation, the dots here were connected ahead of time. The State Department saw this risk coming, and the State Department didn't ask -- didn't -- didn't act in order to prevent what -- what could have been handled, probably, by answering the requests by our personnel.

ROYCE: So if we look at the State Department email exchange, on top officials in the bureau, written right after the assassination attempt on the British ambassador in June of 2012, here's the exchange. Quote, "This is very concerning when you start putting events together. The anti-American demonstration, the attack on our compound, and now the U.K. motor -- motorcade attack." "If the tide is turning and they are now looking for Americans, and westerners to attack, that is a game changer." "We are not staffed, or resourced adequately to protect our people in that type of environment." "We are a soft target.", end quote.