(WASHINGTON) — Surrogates for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced sharp questions from the House Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday about the Obama administration’s initial statements about the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, who is recovering from a mild concussion she suffered from a fall, was represented by Deputy Secretaries of State Thomas Nides and William Burns, who were interrogated by GOP lawmakers about why protesters outside the mission were blamed when it was eventually concluded that terrorists were responsible for a pre-planned assault.
Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House panel, acknowledged she lacked “confidence in [the State Department’s] assessment in what went wrong and what actions are needed to prevent a repeat” despite an independent report released earlier that delivered a scathing indictment of the department’s failures to prevent the siege that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The lawmaker pressed Nides and Burns about why United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was allowed to go on record five days after the attack to claim that it was the outgrowth of a demonstration against an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S.
Burns told the committee that Rice was reading from talking points given to her by the CIA, which she later disavowed. He added that while the president and Clinton were certain terrorists were behind the consulate attack, it still hadn’t become immediately clear who arranged the assault and how it happened.
He added, “It did take the intelligence community some days to determine what was inaccurate…I’m sure our colleagues in the intelligence community wish they could have cleared up those inaccuracies sooner.”
However, Republicans weren’t buying it as Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot alleged the White House’s story was “ham-handed at best and a cover up at worst.”
Democratic members of the committee seemed more outraged at their GOP colleagues than by the failures of the State Department.
Retiring New York Congressman Gary Ackerman told Nides and Burns, “I’d like to apologize to the deputy secretaries. You have been brought here as a ruse. You are being used…for partisan and political purposes.”
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Stephen Collinson, CNN
Evan Perez and Pamela Brown, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
AJ Willingham, CNN