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Hillary Clinton Cool Under House Grilling

WASHINGTON (CN) - Hillary Clinton's grilling by the House Select Committee on Benghazi revealed little new information about attacks on the U.S diplomatic compound in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, as the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate was relegated at times to watching a partisan battle between members of the committee.

Clinton took responsibility for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans who died in the attack, and assured the committee her State Department worked hard to protect Stevens as much as possible.

She spoke passionately about her relationship with Stevens, praising his work building relationships on the ground in Libya in her opening statement.

"I would imagine I've thought about what happened more than all of you put together," Clinton told the committee during the hearing. "I've lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been wracking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done."

Clinton told the committee Stevens never asked to pull out of Libya even as conditions deteriorated ahead of the attacks.

But Republican members of the committee grilled Clinton on the denial of Stevens' multiple requests for increased security personnel, the lack of emails from Clinton about Stevens' efforts in the months before the attack and her public comments that suggested the attack was a response to an anti-Muslim video making the rounds on the Internet at the time.

Clinton told the committee Stevens' requests for increased security personnel never came to her desk, the standard protocol for such cables from other State Department employees.

Regardless of agency tradition, Republicans on the committee wondered if Clinton should have gotten in touch with Stevens or made herself more available to him. Clinton told the committee she did not think he had her personal email account, though noted this wasn't unusual for an ambassador.

"I just want to hear from you why, with all of this information in front of you, particularly on the date of Aug. 17, did it not occur to you to pick up the phone and call your friend, Ambassador Stevens, and ask him what he needed?" Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama, asked Clinton.

Clinton made a point of saying she did not work exclusively through email while she was at the State Department, meaning not everything she did would show up in the committee's records.

She didn't even have a computer in her office, she told the committee.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, pressed Clinton on the official narrative that developed after the attack, suggesting the assault was born out of a protest against "Innocence of Muslims," a video that caused demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and in other countries with large Muslim populations around the world.

Eventually it became clear the attack was premeditated, though Clinton said during the hearing she still believes the video played a role in the attack.

The original theory was the result of the State Department scrambling to keep up with "a lot of conflicting information" in the aftermath of the attack, Clinton told the committee.

She told Jordan she carefully chose her words when telling the public "some" have attributed the attacks to the video.

But Jordan suggested Clinton's reasons for pushing the narrative were more nefarious.


"You did it because Libya was supposed to be - as [Rep. Peter] Roskam pointed out - this great success story for the Obama White House and the Clinton State Department," Jordan told Clinton. "And a key campaign theme that year was General Motors is alive, bin Laden's dead, al-Qaida's on the run. Now you have a terrorist attack. It's a terrorist attack in Libya and it's just 56 days before an election. You can live with a protest about the video. That will work, but a terrorist attack won't."

Jordan read emails Clinton sent to her family and the Prime Minister of Egypt which he said showed she knew the attack was not about the video well before the video narrative fell apart.

Clinton said Jordan's suggestions were a "great disservice" to the work intelligence officials did after the attacks and that there was no "doubt in my mind the State Department did everything it could."

"I'm sorry that it doesn't fit your narrative, Congressman," Clinton told Jordan. "I can only tell you what the facts were."

Her voice raised later in the hearing as she retold the story of calling the Tunisian president to implore him to send troops to protect the American embassy there, which was in danger because of protests sparked by the video.

Clinton remained calm throughout the all-day hearing, smiling whenever she entered the room and laughed loudly when Roby asked if she had been at home, alone, the whole night of the attacks.

Throughout the hearing, Clinton and Democrats on the committee referenced an accountability review board report that investigated the Benghazi attacks and gave 29 recommendations to ensure an attack didn't happen again. Clinton said she implemented all of the report's suggestions before she left office.

Democrats said the report was authoritative and rendered the committee's efforts redundant. But Republicans, including Committee chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, suggested Clinton handpicked the review board - which Gowdy said did not get access to nearly as many documents as the House committee did.

The hearing was the fourth the committee has held since its creation in May 2014.

Lines to get into the hearing wrapped down the long hallways of the Longworth House Office Building as members of the public and press alike packed into the ornate room.

In recent weeks the committee has been embroiled in scandal after California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, once the presumptive heir to Speaker of the House John Boehner's gavel, accused the committee of being an arm of the Republican Party aimed at bringing Clinton down.

Another Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York lobbed similar criticism at the committee last week.

As the hearing drew closer, Gowdy and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, have exchanged letters and public barbs as well, with Gowdy defending the committee and Cummings attacking the group as a partisan waste of taxpayer money.

The sparring spilled over into the hearing, especially before the panel broke for lunch after the first round of questioning.

Gowdy had just finished his questioning of Clinton, which primarily focused on her reliance upon Sidney Blumenthal, a personal friend who would send Clinton reports while she was Secretary of State and has appeared in many of Clinton's recently declassified emails.

Clinton called these reports "unsolicited," but Gowdy read a series of emails where Clinton asked Blumenthal to elaborate on points or to send her more information and suggested she had a hand in Blumenthal's continued advice.

To Gowdy, it was wrong that Blumenthal had such access to Clinton while Stevens did not even have her personal email address.

Cummings took exception to Gowdy's line of questioning, and read Gowdy's recent statements on television in which he was not interested in Blumenthal's emails. Cummings said Gowdy's statements were inaccurate and called for the committee chairman to release the transcript of Blumenthal's testimony to the committee.

Gowdy thought Cummings' request was more appropriate for a business meeting but Cummings continued, shouting over Gowdy's interjections while Clinton looked on.

"You asked for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Why don't we just put the entire transcript out there and let the world see it?" Cummings shouted, referencing Gowdy's words in his opening statement.

The committee voted down the motion to release Blumenthal's deposition just after reconvening for the second round of questioning.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said during the hearing that fellow Democrats on the committee debated whether or not to even attend Clinton's testimony. Cummings convinced them to come, Schiff said, to protect Clinton from lines of questioning they thought to be unfair.

Other Democrats suggested the hearing was unnecessary and the committee had wasted taxpayer funds collecting records and calling for testimony in an investigation that hadn't revealed much of anything.

"We have learned nothing substantively new about what happened in Benghazi," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, said after accusing his colleagues of prosecuting Clinton.

Smith interrupted Jordan in the hearing's ninth hour, during a line of questioning about Clinton's use of a private email server, asking what it had to do with learning what happened in Benghazi.

Jordan insisted the emails were important to create a full record and accused Smith of only showing up to a committee meeting for one hour.

Gowdy said his goal for the committee was to write the definitive report on the attacks on the diplomatic complex at Benghazi, and suggested during the hearing the committee could call as many as 20 more witnesses.

The hearing lasted 11 hours before finally ending for the day.

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