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Continuing Coverage of the House Hearing on Benghazi Attack; Sherman, Rohrabcaher, Meeks, Chabot, Deutch and Wilson Speak

Aired January 23, 2013 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


REP. ED ROYCE, R-CALIFORNIA: Mr. Sherman from California?

SHERMAN: Madam Secretary, it's a shame that this is your last appearance before our committee. And I would have thought that your last appearance would be a chance for us to review your outstanding record as one of our great secretaries of State. Whether it be leading efforts to enforce sanctions on Iran, your work supporting women's rights around the world, engaging with civil society, and restoring and maintaining American influence in a very difficult era.

And I would have thought that your last hearing would be a chance to -- to -- to give us some advice for what to do over the next -- over the next four years and beyond. I take seriously your very strong advice, because I happen to agree with it, that it's about time we pass an authorization bill through both Houses of Congress. But instead we're here on, I guess, our third hearing to deal with the tragic events in Benghazi because it is a chance for each political party to beat up on the other.

We can talk about how Republicans didn't provide you with resources. We can provide -- talk about the administration inside the -- the State Department, so I would hope that maybe we'd get you to come back again. I realize that would be gratis, you wouldn't even be on the government payroll at that time, and do the hearing that I'd like to have, which is getting your input on the bigger issues of foreign policy. Ultimately the security of our diplomats depends on the host country.

This is all a discussion about, well there might have been five security people on the ground, and if only there had been more funding, more deployment, this cable, that cable. Maybe there would have been eight or nine security people on the ground, which might have led to more protection, might have led to more causalities. And here in Washington, the decision was made to provide well more than 16 security people to Libya and nobody that I know of in Washington was involved in the issue of how many of those were in Benghazi, either going with the ambassador, or there in advance.

So the decision that all 16 weren't with him, was a decision that you can't blame either political party, or anyone in Washington for. Ultimately, all we can have at our embassies is enough to stave off a -- a militant attack for a few hours, and after that if the host country doesn't come to the rescue, it doesn't matter whether we have three, six, 12, 16, or 36 armed guards and -- and Marines at the location. One aspect of protecting our -- our diplomats in the future is bringing to justice the criminals who did this, this time.

We did a lot for the people of Libya. We did a lot for those who are now ruling Libya. How would you appraise their efforts to cooperate with us in the investigation? And does this Libyan government have the will, and the capacity to arrest suspects involved? And of course will and capacity tend to go with each other. I think they would have to at minimum, strain their capacity to try to arrest powerful, armed elements in the eastern part of their country. And I don't know if they have -- even if they have the will to use that capacity.

So can you tell us after the attack, and now that we're trying to bring these culprits to justice, what do you think of the Libyan government?

CLINTON: Well, I think Congressman you -- you drew exactly the right description. Is it -- is it will, or is it capacity when obviously what you need is both? I have found the Libyan officials to be willing, but without capacity. And part of our challenge is to help them build greater capacity, because now it's about them. You know it's not only about what happened to us in Benghazi, which every official in the Libyan government was deeply upset about, but they have their own problems now.

They're having leaders attacked and assassinated on a regular basis. So, we have to do more to help them build up their security capacity and again, I would ask this committee to work with us. There are holds on a lot of the -- the security funding that would go to Libya to assist then in building capacity. There are those, I know in the Congress who say, look Libya is a wealthy nation. We don't need to give them any money. Well, until they get up and going, it's in our great interest to give them the resources, like we have with other countries over the past 40 years.

ROYCE: We can go to Mr. Rohrabacher of California?

ROHRABACHER: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and thank you for being with us today and putting yourself through this.

CLINTON: Thank you.

ROHRABACHER: Let me just note that fixing responsibility, which is what we are trying to do today, and identifying bad policy, and mistakes is the way that democracies fix problems. It is not all politics. It's how we do things here to make it better. So none of us have -- should -- should at all apologize for trying to get to the nitty-gritty. And let me just note that Assistant Secretary of State, Lamb testified here in Congress that budget considerations played absolutely no role in her decision, and it was here decision, not yours -- but you approved it. But her decision as to what the level of security would be there in Benghazi.

So, any suggestion that this is a budget issue is off base, or political. Madam Secretary, you told the Senate this morning that you learned about the attack around 4:00 p.m. on that day, and you were involved widely in the coordinated response, which included the Department of Defense and the White House, but did not speak to the president until later that evening. When did you talk to the president?

CLINTON: Two things. On the first point you made, Congressman, the ARB disagreed with that and did find that budget issues were at stake.

ROHRABACHER: Well, she testified under oath, and it was...

CLINTON: Well you know, that's why you have an independent group like an ARB. That's why it was created, to look at everything. So...

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER: Everybody has their own...

CLINTON: Right. I think it's important though, that...

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER: ...do here, but when about you saw the president? When -- when did you see the president, and...

CLINTON: I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the national security adviser. I had been on secure video conferences with high level officials...

ROHRABACHER: OK.

CLINTON: ...in the White House...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: ...at the Defense Department...

ROHRABACHER: Secretary Lamb, the lady we were talking about did -- testified that she had actually witnessed this in real time -- the attack, in real time on a monitor. At any time did you see the initial attack on a monitor, with the president?

CLINTON: Congressman, there was no monitor. There was no real time.

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: We got the surveillance videos some weeks later. That was the first time we saw any video of the attack.

ROHRABACHER: So there was no...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: I think there was a misunderstanding. I think that perhaps -- I'm -- I'm just trying to clarify this, I may be going beyond my brief here, but I think perhaps what she meant was...

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER: OK, so was there audio?

CLINTON: She was on an open -- she was talking to...

ROHRABACHER: OK.

CLINTON: ...D.S. people who were trying to...

ROHRABACHER: Right.

CLINTON: ...understand what was going on.

ROHRABACHER: Well, I will have to say that Admiral Mullen, in -- in briefing us suggested that there -- that they had seen some kind of video. And that within a few moments it was very clear that this was a very coordinated terrorist attack, and not some demonstration that had gone awry.

CLINTON: Well I think the surveillance video, which some of you may have seen...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: ...in a classified setting, does...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: ...demonstrate what happened that night.

ROHRABACHER: As you were dealing with the crisis as it went on, did you think, or act on the basis that this was a film protest gone out of control? And when you briefed the president, did you tell him that? Or did you tell him, which Admiral Mullen suggests you knew by then, that this was a well planned and executed terrorist attack? Which was the president told?

CLINTON: Well first of all, I said the very next morning that it was an attack by heavily armed militants. The president said that morning it was an act of terror. At the same time, however, I was dealing with protests against our facilities that were clearly connected to that video.

ROHRABACHER: Right.

CLINTON: So we were -- we were managing a -- a number...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: ...of such... (CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER: Let's just say you noted, you noted that -- and they -- it can be -- you know people do this so that you can say that you said it, but the emphasis, we all remember what the emphasis was, over and over, and over again it was repeated that we had enraged the Islamic terrorists, which by the way, what's that do? When you say that we enraged the Islamic terrorists, that means we're at fault, they're not at fault. And then to look and see that the only people that I know are in jail right now is the filmmaker. Isn't this a little disconcerting? CLINTON: Well first -- first, Congressman, I want to be clear that of course it was a terrorist attack. The very next day I called it an attack by heavily armed militants on our compound. I think there is still, however, questions about exactly what caused it, who the attackers were. The ARB, after months of research, said the picture is still very complicated. And I think it's worth members looking at both the unclassified and classified ARB with -- with that in mind.

ROHRABACHER: Thank you.

ROYCE: Mr. Meeks of New York.

MEEKS: Let me first thank you. Well, first I want to thank you for an extraordinary daughter, who came to the Rockaways after Sandy, just helping people, unannounced, without fanfare, just getting down and helping people because they needed help after that terrible storm. So just extraordinary public service.

And then I want to also say, Madam Secretary, that you have been a secretary of state, in an extraordinary time in the history of the United States of America and the world. And you have managed to challenge in an equally extraordinary manner.

When you took the job, America had a tarnished image abroad. You have revived our brand, traveled over a million miles to the furthest reaches of the world, to the most challenging areas, and touched the lives of the most vulnerable.

With your leadership of initiatives like the QDDR, you have deepened our confidence that foreign aid can be responsibly spent. On behalf of a grateful nation, and definitely the people of the Fifth Congressional District, I want to thank you for a job well done.

The attacks on our mission in Benghazi were a painful reminder to all of us that our diplomats, of course, are in harm's way, and they are in some of the same unstable, and even hostile environments, as our military. Yet, they don't have the same means of protecting themselves.

And sadly, we go back, and we talked, and I know that this committee, I heard Admiral Mullens (ph) and Ambassador Pickering say that money was and is in the budget, is very important, and makes a difference. Yet, and sadly, this House has failed to do its part in addressing the challenges they face, even after the tragedy of the Benghazi attacks. You, however, have been responsibly, and accepted the recommendations of the ARB, and put measures in place immediately after the September attacks, that demonstrate that you are serious about changing the status quo. But of course, again, it's a two-way street.

Congress has failed to act in a meaningful way. And I believe it's the same on the leadership for its failure to give the State Department the authority to transfer already-appropriated funds -- not new money. Already, money that you have toward funds -- towards bolstering security for our diplomats, to give you that discretion.

And shame on the House for its failing for -- failing to adequately fund the administration's request for diplomatic security funding. Now, I hope that this Congress will act swiftly to fix these critical funding matters. It's also my hope, as you've said, that we finally have a state authorization bill that the president can sign into law.

But let me ask you this question: At the time of the Benghazi attacks, you indicated there was risings (ph) going on in Egypt, and in Yemen, and in Tunisia. It seemed as though a lot -- because no one could have imagined -- and I'm sure you did not when you initially took office -- that we would have the Arab Spring, and the nation -- that what was going on in these various countries would happen.

I want to ask you a question, somewhat, I guess, what Mr. Sherman was asking. But because -- just to get your thoughts on what we might do as members of Congress, and how we might move forward with the nations of the Arab Spring, so that maybe that is a way that we can prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future.

CLINTON: Well, it's an excellent question, Congressman, and deserves a very thoughtful answer longer than the time I have. But let me just make three quick points.

First, we cannot retreat from, give up on, turn our backs on these new Arab Spring revolutionary countries and new regimes. They are very new. Most of them have leaders that have never run anything.

They have come from backgrounds where they are suspicious of security, because security was a dirty word. It threw them in jail. It, you know, harassed themselves and their families. So we have to do some work. And that work requires that we stay engaged.

CLINTON: Secondly, we have to do a much better job in helping rebuild security apparatus that can be used. Quick example: We had a terrible assault on our embassy in Tunis. And I called the president of Tunisia. I said, "You have got to send reinforcements right now. Our embassy is going to be overrun."

He sent it, it stopped.

The government really has been responsive, understanding that, you know, these terrorists, these extremists don't just threaten us in Western countries, they threaten the stability and the future of these governments. So we have to help them the way we helped Colombia 10 years ago.

And, finally, we need to do a better job conveying a counternarrative to the extremist jihadist narrative.

You know, I've -- I've said this to this committee before, a lot of new members on it -- you know, we have abdicated the broadcasting arena. You know, yes, we have private stations, CNN, Fox, NBC, all of that. They're out there, they convey information.

But we're not doing what we did during the Cold War. Our Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.

So we're abdicating the ideological arena, and we need to get back into it.

We have the best values, we have the best narrative. Most people in the world just want to have a good, decent life that is supported by a good, decent job and raise their families. And we're letting the jihadist narrative fill a void. We need to get in there and compete -- and we can do it successfully.

ROYCE: Mr. Chabot of Ohio?

CHABOT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Madam Secretary, first let me thank you for your service. And I wish you the best in your future endeavors. Mostly.

(LAUGHTER)

I've got a couple of questions, but I do want to take a moment or two to say a couple of words about our late ambassador, Chris Stevens. Many members and staff on our committee have had the opportunity to know and to work with him, even before he was named our U.S. ambassador to Libya. And I think all would agree that he was one of our most able diplomats.

I had the opportunity to meet with him in Tripoli a little less than a month before he and three other outstanding Americans were murdered in Benghazi.

His enthusiasm for the job was really something to -- to behold. He was excited about the opportunity to help a nation newly freed from decades of brutal dictatorship.

On my first night in the -- in the country, I had the opportunity to join the ambassador for a Niftar (ph) dinner with a number of newly elected Libyan parliamentarians. They were optimistic about building a democracy, creating a vibrant economy and restoring fundamental human rights for the Libyan people. And he was as enthusiastic as they were about the prospects.

There's no question that he'll be missed by all who knew him and -- and who worked with him.

One of the things that really troubles me, Madam Secretary, is the -- the hoops that we on this committee have had to jump through to get to the facts surrounding the deaths of these public servants. The State Department has delayed and delayed coming forth with information.

And when this committee was finally presented with relevant data, it amounted, oftentimes, to what might be called a document dump. Hundreds of pages of paper in wide disarray, in no particular order, either in terms of relevance or in chronology, often in duplicate but in different binders, making it very difficult to locate documents that were of any help.

Our public servants in Libya were murdered on September 11th. It's now January 23rd, more than four months later. It's -- it's unacceptable that the State Department has made it so difficult for Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility.

Now, a couple of questions. Within a couple of months of the attack, during the July, August period, Ambassador Stevens expressed concern about militia activity, particularly in Benghazi and the need for additional security assistance.

We've seen the cables where security officers on the ground expressed considerable frustration at the difficulty in getting the personnel they believed were needed to protect American diplomats and property.

And we now know that management of security personnel, especially the assignment of State Department agents on very short-term duty, virtually guaranteeing very limited institutional knowledge, was grossly inadequate. Why was the department hierarchy so obstinate? And why would the department deny a personal plea from Ambassador Stevens, given his expertise on Libyan affairs?

Why did the department senior leadership not take into consideration the approaching September 11th anniversary, particularly in light of direct requests from our mission in Libya?

CHABOT: And, finally, Madam Secretary, we've heard numerous times over the last several months that more funding is need for diplomatic security, Including in your testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to some extent this afternoon.

I -- I don't believe there's anybody in this room who doesn't want to protect our diplomats stationed abroad, often in very dangerous regions.

Since 2000, Congress has provided funding in the neighborhood of $10 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance. And we will, no doubt, continue to provide significant funding in the future.

Given that our nation now faces a mountain of debt, sadly I might add given short shrift I have to say by the president in his inaugural address. Of course, means that we cannot fund every single program that every federal agency requests.

So when we increase funding in one area, we have to consider cuts in others, at least that's the way it should work.

The State Department currently -- are they conducting any internal reviews, for example, to determine what offsets in current program funding might be considered?

And -- and finally, I know that some have been pedaling this story about it's Congress's fault for not providing sufficient funding for security. I would just note that Robert Baldray (ph) your Chief Financial Officer for Diplomatic Security stated, and I quote, "I do not feel that we have ever been at a point where we have sacrificed security due to lack of funding," and I note that I've used my five minutes, so I would appreciate your remarks...

ROYCE: The gentleman from Ohio as noted has used his five minutes and if we want to get through the members, we're going to have to hold to those five minutes. So I'll just ask for her response in writing and we'll go now to Mr. Deutch from Florida.

DEUTCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We don't have long because those are some good questions that I'll take up in a moment.

Secretary Clinton, first I'd like to thank -- thank you for the truly remarkable job that you've done as Secretary of State. You have represented the interest of this nation magnificently and I for one hope that after a bit of rest you will consider a return to public service and should that return bring you to Florida, I would look forward to welcoming you there.

I'd be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to once again thank you for your efforts on behalf of my constituent Robert Levinson who went missing in Iran in 2007, now 2,147 days ago and I ask that the department continue to do everything that it can to return Robert to his family.

I also want to thank you for the ways that you've handled the tragic events in Benghazi. your personal commitment to ensuring that those Americans who serve American interests overseas, often at great risk to themselves is a testament to the commitment that you've shown throughout your tenure at state to strengthen our diplomatic efforts around the world.

And I'd like to return to Mr. Chabot's question. Much of -- there is an awful lot of debate here on The Hill about -- about how we spend our -- our dollars. We all recognize that we have budgetary concerns. We also recognize that we have an obligation to provide security and to protect American personnel abroad.

And as we've ended our military operations in Iraq, as -- as we wind down in Afghanistan, what kind of -- I'd -- I'd like to ask what kind of strain will the presence of -- of less military personnel in the region put on diplomatic security? We'll start with that.

CLINTON: That's a very important question that we're really going to have to grapple with together, I would hope.

We saw, for example, that when our -- our troops withdrew from Iraq, it dramatically altered what our civilians were capable of being able to do because there had been over the course of the war in Iraq, a very good working relationship between DOD, state and USAID. We're going to face the same kind of questions in Afghanistan as our troops draw down from Afghanistan.

And in a lot of these places, we don't have military resources. You know, the Department of Defense was a very good partner to us in responding to Benghazi, but they're assets were too far away to make much difference in any timely fashion.

AFRICOM was stood up ten years ago, I think that -- that is going to look quite prescient because we're going to need to figure how to work more effectively together between our civilian and military assets in Africa and I think that would be a worthy subject of this committee, perhaps working with the Armed Services Committee because it's often difficult.

But we -- in my four years, we've tried to work out more cooperative relationships, more funding streams between state and DOD in order to be able to maximize the cooperation between us.

DEUTCH: When -- when you talk about the -- the need to prioritize because of shortfalls, more Marine security guards, talked about construction budgets and upgrades, what does that mean? What -- what are the decisions that have to be made and -- and how do they actually impact our diplomatic personnel?

CLINTON: Well, first and foremost, we have to do the right job prioritizing based on the resources we do have. And I would be the first to say, it's not all about money but it's also not without budgetary consequences. And so we have to figure out what's the right balance.

Secondly, immediately after this happened, I spoke with Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey, asked the Defense Department to work with us in putting together interagency security assessment teams to go out and look at our high-threat posts, because our military brings a different perspective. And that was a very important process which we are going to continue.

We're also looking to see how we can better cooperate on the security aid that we give to other countries. It's -- it's got to be a combination of both military assets and expertise, but also development, rule of law, democracy building. It can't be one or the other. They have to be married together.

DEUTCH: And if you could, in the few seconds that we have left, Madam Secretary, could you just -- could you speak more broadly about the important role that that will play? In this budget debate that's going to take place, why is it so important for us to continue to fund this?

CLINTON: Well, let me just give you an example. Colombia -- you know, Colombia 15, 20 years ago was in a very difficult state. It had an insurgency. It had a drug cartel that was basically controlling territory. The United States stepped in, worked with the Colombians, and the progress, I think, is evident for all to see.

There was a front page article in the Travel section about go to Medellin. I mean, it's -- that's what America can do. We don't do it ourselves. We partner with willing governments to help them acquire the capacity to protect their own citizens.

ROYCE (?): We go to Mr. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And, Madam Secretary, thank you for being here today.

I particularly appreciate your recognition of AFRICOM, Plan Colombia. Indeed, these have been extraordinary success stories promoting peace throughout the world. The American people always appreciate its American heroes. Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

As we begin, I do want to point out, though, for the record, I believe that Congressman Rohrabacher is correct. There was an e-mail from the chief financial officer for diplomatic security following the Benghazi attack. Specific quote, "although diplomatic security has been fiscally prudent, I do not feel that we have ever been in a point where we sacrifice security due to a lack of funding," end of quote.

That actually is an attribute to you. And I have faith in the chief financial officer that it's a correct statement.

As we begin, it's been reported that since you managed the response to the Benghazi attack, why weren't you the person to appear on the Sunday shows immediately following the attack? Ambassador Susan Rice said that you declined. Was that correct?

CLINTON: Well, I -- I have to confess here in public, going on the Sunday shows is not my favorite thing to do. There -- there are other things I'd prefer to do on Sunday mornings. And, you know, I haven't been on a Sunday show in way over a year. So it just isn't something that I normally jump to do.

And I did feel strongly that we had a lot that we had to manage, that I had to respond to, and I thought that should be my priority.

WILSON: And -- and I believe that part of the priority is telling correct information, and you could have done that. And I think it was just very unfortunate, the multiple appearances by Ambassador Rice with information that's been discovered not to be correct.

In the November 21st, 2012, edition of the Charleston Post and Courier, a letter was published by William J. Boudreau, a retired foreign service officer of Seabrook Island. He wrote, "Within the U.S. State Department there's an office known as the OpCenter. It is located in the Office of the Secretary of State. It is staffed around the clock, 24/7 by seasoned foreign service officers. Its function is to be sensitive to any threat to American interests wherever they might arise.

The OpCenter has direct, secure communication lines to the White House Situation Room, the national military command center at the Pentagon, and the CIA's OpCenter.