Clinton to testify before Congress about Benghazi attack

 

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will appear before Congress to discuss the findings of a State Department review of potential lapses in the September 11 attack in Libya, the State Department said Thursday.

Spokesman Mark Toner did not say whether Clinton's testimony about the fatal attack in the Libyan city of Benghazi would be public, but the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee suggested that it would be.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said at a hearing on the Benghazi attack that Clinton "has committed to testifying before our committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee" on a report by the Accountability Review Board.

Ros-Lehtinen's panel had wanted Clinton to appear Thursday, but she is traveling in Asia this week. The State Department rejected Republican complaints that Clinton was dodging their questions or that the Obama administration had been slow to produce diplomatic cables and other documents that might show lapses in Libya.

The attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi quickly became a partisan political issue and has remained one since the Nov. 6 election. Republicans have accused the administration of either stinting on security for diplomats ahead of the attack or trying to play down the possibility afterward that it was a terrorist attack.

Prominent Republican senators Wednesday reiterated their calls for the establishment of a temporary select committee to investigate the attack and condemned Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for her early characterizations of the attack, which they said were inaccurate and misleading.

"The coordinated preplanned and brazen attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11 was an outrage," Ros-Lehtinen said at her committee's hearing Thursday.

"Also disgraceful is the sad parade of conflicting accounts of the attack that we have received from administration officials in the weeks and months since," she said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., charged that "the president himself has intentionally misinformed — read that, lied — to the American people in the aftermath of this tragedy." Now, he said, Obama "has the gall to float" Rice's name as a possible nominee to replace Clinton as secretary of state. He described Rice, the key administration spokeswoman shortly after the attack, as "the actual vehicle used to misinform the American people during this crisis."

That brought a strong retort from Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who accused Republicans of hypocrisy, saying they had cut administration requests for security funding and then made political hay out of the inevitable results.

An investigative report and recommendations for changes to security or other procedures is due to Congress in December.

On Thursday, in a new report, the Government Accountability Office said that the State Department has not conducted a recommended review of its diplomatic security section to "ensure that its mission and activities address State's priority needs." The GAO said the department has done other internal checks but still should undertake the larger review the agency had recommended in 2009.

The brief GAO update to its 2009 report did not directly address the Benghazi incident.

Clinton has briefed members of Congress on the Benghazi attack and inquiry behind closed doors but has not done so in open session. One of her deputies, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, has done so.

The House session Thursday came as Kennedy and senior CIA and FBI officials briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said that during a separate closed-door Senate intelligence committee briefing Thursday senators were shown a lengthy "real-time" video of the attack on the Benghazi mission. She described the video as a "composite" of various images, that began before the attack and included images captured by a Predator drone.

"This is just the first step in the inquiry," she said. She said the committee will hold at least two more classified hearings, as well as a public hearing after Thanksgiving, before reaching some conclusions on what occurred in Libya.

"Were mistakes made? Gosh, we know mistakes were made. We've got to learn from them," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who attended the session.

Former CIA director David Petraeus will testify separately in closed sessions Friday before the House and Senate intelligence panels. Several lawmakers had requested the appearance even though Petraeus resigned last week. He was head of the spy agency when the attack occurred and recently traveled to Libya on a fact-finding trip.

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Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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