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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Live Coverage of Hillary Clinton's Testimony Before the Benghazi Committee. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired October 22, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's important also to mention, Congressman, that the Diplomatic Security professionals who were reviewing these requests, along with those who are serving in war zones and hot spots around the world, have great expertise and experience in keeping people safe.
[11:00:08] If you go on CODELs, they are the ones who plan your trip to keep you safe.
They certainly did that for me. But most importantly, that's what they do every day for everybody who serves our country as a diplomat or development professional.
And I was not going to second-guess them. I was not going to substitute my judgment, which is not based on experience that they have in keeping people safe, for theirs. And the changes that were recommended by the accountability review board are ones that we thought made sense and began quickly to implement.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, BENGHAZI COMMITTEE: Now, the ARB., after conducting, Madam Secretary, more than 100 interviews, identifies a specific employee at the State Department who denied these requests. It was Deputy Assistant Secretary Of The Bureau Of Diplomatic Security Charlene Lamb. And again, she did come before the Oversight Committee.
The ARB report was very critical of her. It was also critical of her two supervisors. Principal deputy assistant secretary and the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security. The Oversight Committee found the same answer as the ARB. It found that this official denied these requests. It found no evidence that you approved or denied them.
The problem is Republicans just keep asking the same question over and over again, and pretend they don't know the answer. In 2013, the Republican chairman of five House committees issued a report falsely accusing you personally of denying these requests cable (ph) over your signature.
The next day, the next day, the chairman of the Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, went on national television and accused you of the same thing.
Can we play that clip, please?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF.: Secretary of State was just wrong. She said she did not participate in this. And yet only a few months before the attack, she outright denied security in her signature in April 2014.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUMMINGS: Do you remember that, Madam Secretary?
CLINTON: I do.
CUMMINGS: Well, when the Washington Post fact checker examined this claim, they gave it four Pinocchios. They called it a whopper. It turns out, that the Republicans had a copy of that cable, but didn't tell the American people that your so-called signature was just a stamp that appeared on millions of cables from the State Department every single year.
Is that right?
CLINTON: That's correct.
CUMMINGS: Now, Madam Secretary, my goal has always been to gather facts and to defend the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Last year, I asked our staff to compile an asked and answered database.
And this particular issue was answered thoroughly. On Monday, we put out another report and this issue was addressed yet again. But the Republicans want to keep this attack going, so they are now trying to argue that we have new e-mails that raise new questions.
The truth is that we have reviewed these e-mails, and they don't contradict previous conclusions. They confirm them. They corroborate them. We have reviewed e-mails from Ambassador Stevens. And they show that he asked Charleston Lamb for more security.
Nothing we have obtained, not the new interviews or the new e- mails changes the basic fact we have known for three years.
Secretary Clinton, let me ask one final question, and please take as much time as you want to answer this. There is no evidence to support the Republican claims that you personally rejected security requests. So, some have a argued that since you knew the danger was increasing in Libya, you should have been in there making detailed decisions about whether this would be 5, 7, or even 9 security officers at any given post.
Madam Secretary, I know you have answered it over again. You might just want to elaborate and just I'll give you -- I have a minute and seven seconds.
CLINTON: Well, thank you, Congressman. I think there has been some confusion, and I welcome the opportunity to try to clarify it to the best of my ability. With respect, as you rightly point out, the claims that were made about the cables, I think you have explained the fact, which is that it is the long-standing tradition of the State Department for cables from around the world to be sent to and sent from the State Department under the signature, over the signature of the secretary of State. It's a -- it's a stamp. It's just part of the tradition. There are millions of them, as you point out. They are sorted through and directed to the appropriate personnel. Very few of them ever come to my attention.
None of them with respect to security regarding Benghazi did. Then the other point, which I thank you for raising so that perhaps I can speak to this one as well. There is, of course, information that we were obtaining about the increasingly dangerous environment in Libya.
Across the country, but in particular in Eastern Libya. And we were aware of that. And we were certainly taking that into account. There was no actionable intelligence on September 11th, or even before that date, about any kind of planned attack on our compound in Benghazi. And there were a lot of debates, apparently, that went on within the security professionals about what to provide.
Because they did have to prioritize. The Accountability Review Board pointed that out. The State Department has historically, and certainly before this terrible accident, not had the amount of money we thought necessary to do what was required to protect everyone.
So, of course, there had to be priorities. And that was something that the security professionals dealt with. I think that both Admiral Mullen And Ambassador Pickering made it very clear that they thought that the high threat post should move to a higher level of scrutiny. And we had immediately moved to do that.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, BENGHAZI COMMITTEE: Thank the gentleman. The chair will now recognize the gentlelady from Indiana, Ms. Brooks.
REP. SUSAN W. BROOKS, R-IND.: Good morning, Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: Good morning.
BROOKS: Thank you for being here today. In drawing on what you just said, that very few, but no requests for Benghazi came to your attention, I'd like to show you something. This pile represents the e-mails that you sent or received about Libya in 2011, from February through December of 2011.
This pile represents the e-mails you sent or received from early 2012 until the day of the attack. There are 795 e-mails in this pile. We've counted them.
There's 67 e-mails in this pile in 2012. And I'm troubled by what I see here. And so, my questions relate to these piles. In this pile in 2011 I see daily updates, sometimes is hourly updates from your staff about Benghazi and Chris Stevens.
When I look at this pile in 2012, I only see a handful of e-mails to you from your senior staff about Benghazi. And I have several questions for you about this disparity, because we know from talking to your senior advisers, that they knew, and many of them are here today seated behind you, they knew to send you important information, issues that were of importance to you.
And I can only conclude by your own records that there was a lack of interest in Libya in 2012.
So, let's first focus, though, on this pile and what was happening in Libya in 2011. We had an ambassador to Libya, Ambassador Cretz. But you have told us -- and you told us in your opening, you hand-picked Chris Stevens to be your special representative in Benghazi, and you sent him there.
And by your own e-mails, most provided last February, a few provided just a few weeks ago, they show that in March of '11 -- so, we're in March of '11, you had Chris Stevens join you in Paris, where you were meeting with the leader of the Libyan revolution.
And after Paris, that is when, as you talked about Chris Stevens went into Benghazi I believe in April 5th of 2011 on that Greek cargo ship. How long was he expected to stay?
What were Chris Stevens's orders from you about Libya and about Benghazi specifically?
CLINTON: Chris Stevens was asked to go to Benghazi to do reconnaissance, to try to figure out who were the leaders of the insurgency who were based in Benghazi, what their goals were, what they understood would happen if they were successful. It was, as I had, the hard-nosed 21st century diplomacy that is rooted in the old- fashioned necessary work of building relationships and gathering information.
BROOKS: How long was he anticipated to stay in Benghazi, do you recall?
CLINTON: There -- it was open-ended. We were, in discussing it with him, unsure as to how productive it would be, whether it would be appropriate for him to stay for a long time or a short time. That was very much going to depend upon Chris' own assessment.
We knew we were sending someone who understood the area, who understood the language, who understood a lot of the personalities because of the historical study that he used to love to do. And we were going to be guided by what he decided.
BROOKS: I'd like to draw your attention to an e-mail. It's an e-mail found at Tab 1. It's an Op Center e-mail that was forwarded to you from Huma Abedin on Sunday, March 27th that says at the bottom of the e-mail -- so the current game plan is for Mr. Stevens to move no later than Wednesday from Malta to Benghazi. But the bottom of the e- mail says the goal of this one-day trip is for him to lay the groundwork for a stay of up to 30 days.
So just to refresh that recollection, I believe initially the goal was to go in for 30 days. Were you personally briefed on his security plan prior to him going into Libya?
BROOKS: Because at that time, if I'm not mistaken -- I'm sorry to interrupt -- Gadhafi's forces were still battling the rebels, correct?
CLINTON: That's right.
BROOKS: And so what were -- were you personally briefed before you sent Mr. Stevens into Benghazi?
CLINTON: I was personally told by the officials who were in the State Department who were immediately above Chris, who were making the plans for him to go in, that it was going to be expeditionary diplomacy. It was going to require him to make a lot of judgments on the ground about what he could accomplish and including where it would be safe for him to be and how long for him to stay. And I think the initial decision was, you know, up to 30 days and reassess. But it could have been 10 days, it could have been 60 days depending upon what he found and what he reported back to us.
BROOKS: And possibly what was determined about the danger of Benghazi. Who were those officials?
CLINTON: Well, there were a number of officials who were...
BROOKS: That were advising you on the security specifically?
CLINTON: Well, with respect to the security, this was a particular concern of the assistant secretary for the bureau in which Chris worked.
BROOKS: I'm sorry. What was that person's name?
CLINTON: Assistant secretary Jeff Feldman.
BROOKS: Thank you.
CLINTON: And it was also a concern of the assistant secretary for diplomatic security, as well as other officials within the State Department. And I think it's fair to say, Congresswoman, this was, we all knew, a risky undertaking and it was something that was, as I said in my opening statement, more reminiscent of the way diplomacy was practiced back in the 19th century.
Because we didn't have is the Internet. We didn't have instantaneous communication. You would send diplomats and envoys into places and not hear from them for maybe months. This was obviously not of that kind, but it was not that different in degree from what we had done before. And it was a risky undertaking and one which Chris volunteered for and was anxious to undertake.
BROOKS: And it was so risky -- I'd like to pull up another e- mail from the Op Center that forwarded to you from Ms. Abedin Sunday, April 10th. So he had been there about five days. And it indicates that the situation in Ajdabiya had worsened to the point where Stevens is considering departing from Benghazi. This is within five days of him going in.
Were you aware of that concern in the first five days that he had gone in?
BROOKS: And did anyone share that with you and -- did share that with you?
CLINTON: Yes. We were aware because we were -- we were really counting on Chris to guide us and give us the information from the ground. We had no other sources. You know, there was no American outpost. There was no, you know, American military presence. Eventually, other Americans representing different agencies were able to get into Benghazi and begin to do the same work, but they, of course, couldn't do that work overtly, which is why we wanted a diplomat who could be publicly meeting with people to try to get the best assessment.
But it was always going to be a constant risk, and we knew that.
BROOKS: And so let me go back to the risk in 2011 because there was a lot of communication, again, once again from your senior staff, from the State Department to you or from you in 2011. And in fact, that is when Gadhafi fell. He fell in 2011. But then when we go to 2012, Libya, Benghazi, Chris Stevens, the staff there, they seem to fall off your radar in 2012, and the situation is getting much worse in 2012. It was getting much worse.
And let me just share for you in your records that we have reviewed, there is not one e-mail to you or from you in 2012 when an explosive device went off at our compound in April. There's not a single e-mail in your records about that explosive device.
So my question is, this was a very important mission in 2011, you sent Chris Stevens there. But yet when your compound is attacked in 2012, what kind of culture was created in the State Department that your folks couldn't tell you in an e-mail about a bomb in April of 2012?
CLINTON: Well, Congresswoman, I did not conduct most of the business that I did on behalf of our country on e-mail. I conducted it in meetings. I read massive amounts of memos, a great deal of classified information. I made a lot of secure phone calls. I was in and out of the White House all the time. There were a lot of things that happened that I was aware of and that I was reacting to.
If you were to be in my office in the State Department, I didn't have a computer, I did not do the vast is majority of the work on my e-mail. And I bet there are a lot of Sid Blumenthal's e-mails in there from 2011 too.
BROOKS: Well, we'll get to...
CLINTON: And so I think that there were -- I don't want you to have a mistaken impression about what I did and how I did it. Most of my work was not done on e-mails with my closest aides, with officials in the State Department, officials in the rest of the government, as well as the White House and people around the world.
BROOKS: And thank you for sharing that because I'm sure that it's not all done on e-mails, Madam Secretary, and there are meetings and there are discussions. And so then when your compound took a second attack on June 6th, when a bomb blew a wall through the compound then, no e-mails, no e-mails at all. But I am interested in knowing who were you meeting with, who were you huddling with, how were you informed about those things? Because there is nothing in the e-mails that talks about two significant attacks on our compounds in 2012. There was a lot of information in 2011 about issues and security posture and yet nothing in 2012.
CLINTON: Well, I'd be happy to explain. Every morning when I arrived at the State Department, usually between 8:00 and 8:30, I had a personal one-on-one briefing from the representative of the Central Intelligence Agency who shared with me the highest level of classified information that I was to be aware of on a daily basis.
I then had a meeting with the top officials of the State Department every day that I was in town. That's where a lot of information, including threats and attacks on our facilities, was shared. I also had a weekly meeting every Monday with all of the officials, the assistant secretaries and others, so that I could be brought up to date on any issue they were concerned about.
During the day, I received hundreds of pages of memos, many of them classified, some of them so top secret they were brought into my office in a locked briefcase that I had to read and immediately return to the courier. And I was constantly at the White House in the situation room meeting with the national security adviser and others. I would also be meeting with officials in the State Department, foreign officials and others.
So there was a lot going on during every day. I did not e-mail during the day and -- except on rare occasions when I was able to. But I didn't conduct the business that I did primarily on e-mail. That is not how I gathered information, assessed information, asked the hard questions of the people that I worked with.
BROOKS: It appears that leaving Benghazi -- with respect to all of that danger, leaving Benghazi was not an option in 2012.
And I yield back.
CLINTON: If I could just quickly respond, there was never a recommendation from any intelligence official in our government, from any official in the State Department, or from any other person with knowledge of our presence in Benghazi to shut down Benghazi, even after the two attacks that the compound suffered.
And perhaps, you know, you would wonder why, but I can tell you that it was thought that the mission in Benghazi, in conjunction with the CIA mission, was vital to our national interests.
GOWDY: The gentlelady from Indiana yields back.
The chair will now briefly recognize Mr. Cummings and then Ms. Duckworth.
CUMMINGS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I just want to clarify, when I was asking Secretary Clinton a question a moment ago, I mentioned an e-mail that had gone from Ambassador Chris Stevens to Deputy Secretary Lamb. What I meant to say was a cable. And I just wanted to make sure the record was clear.
GOWDY: The record will reflect that.
REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, D-ILL.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Secretary Clinton, I'm pleased that you finally have the opportunity to be here. Before I start my line of questioning, I just want to clarify with regard to the April-June, 2012 incidents. I believe that the procedure that the State Department had for these types of incidents was to actually hold what are called emergency action committee hearings on the ground immediately. And in fact, there were at least five on the records for June alone, on the ground in both Tripoli and Benghazi.
And that is the correct procedure for handling such instances. Is that not correct?
CLINTON: That's correct.
DUCKWORTH: Thank you.
Secretary Clinton, my focus and my job on this committee is to make sure that we never put brave Americans like Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty ever on the ground again anywhere in the world without the protection that they so rightly deserve.
Having flown combat missions myself in some dangerous places, I understand the dedication of our men and women who choose to serve this country overseas. I have a special affinity for the diplomatic corps because these are folks who go in without the benefit of weapons, without the benefit of military might, armed only with America's values and diplomatic words and a handshake, to forward our nation's interests globally. And so I am absolutely determined to make sure that we safeguard in the name of our heroic dead our men and women in the diplomatic corps wherever where they around the world.
So, the bottom line for me, I'm a very mission-driven person, the bottom line for me with respect to examining what went wrong in Benghazi is clear. Let's learn from those mistakes and let's figure out what we need to do to fix them.
I've only been in Congress not quite three years, almost three years. And in this time, I've actually served on two other committees in addition to this one that has looked at the Benghazi attacks, both Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform. So I've had a chance to really look at all of these documents.
One of the things that I saw, and I'd like you to -- discuss this with you, is that the Department of State and the Department of Defense at the time seems to have not had the most ideal cooperation when it came to threat or security analysis. I do know, however, that over the past decade, they've established a tradition of working together on the ground in dangerous regions that has increased over time.
However, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, which also looked at the Benghazi attack, I'm concerned that the interagency cooperation between State and DOD was not sufficient in the weeks and months leading up to the September 11, 2012 attacks. For example, joint contingency planning and training exercises, if we had conducted any joint interagency planning and training exercises, this may have actually helped State and DOD to identify and fix existing vulnerabilities in the temporary mission facility in Benghazi.
Moreover, regular communications between AFRICOM, which is the DOD command, and the special mission Benghazi, could have facilitated the pre-positioning of military assets in a region where there were very real questions over the host country's ability to protect our diplomatic personnel.
Secretary Clinton, within the weeks of the terrorist attack in Benghazi happening, following that, I understand you partnered with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to establish and deploy five interagency security assessment teams to assess our security posture and needs at at least the 19 high-threat posts in 13 different countries. In fact, Deputy Secretary Nize (ph) testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in December of 2012 that the State Department and DOD ISAT initiative created a road map for addressing emerging security challenges.
Why did you partner with the Department of Defense to conduct such a high-priority review? And was it effective in addressing the shortfalls inn Benghazi and applying it for other locations?
CLINTON: Congressman -- Congresswoman, thank you very much, and thanks for your service, and particularly your knowledge about these issues rising from your own military service and the service on the committees here in the House.
It's very challenging to get military assets into countries that don't want them there. And in fact, that has been a constant issue that we have worked, between the State Department and the Department of Defense. The Libyans made it very clear from the very beginning they did not want any American military or any foreign military at all in their country.
And what I concluded is that we needed to have these assessments because even if we couldn't post our own military in the country, we needed to have a faster reaction. I certainly agree 100 percent with the findings of the Armed Services Committee here in the House and other investigations. Our military did everything they could. They turned over every rock. They tried to deploy as best they could to try to get to Benghazi. It was beyond the geographic range. They didn't have assets nearby because we don't have a lot of installations and military personnel that are in that immediate region.
So following what happened in Benghazi, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey and I, agreed to send out mixed teams of our diplomatic security and their top security experts from the Defense Department to get a better idea of the 19 high-threat posts. And that's exactly what we did. And it gave us some guidance to try to have better planning ahead of time.
I know Admiral Mullen testified that it would be beyond the scope of our military to be able to provide immediate reaction to 270 posts. But that's why we tried to narrow down. And of course, we do get help from our military in war zones. The military has been incredibly supportive of our embassy in Kabul and our embassy in Baghdad. But we have a lot of hot spots now and very dangerous places that are not in military conflict areas where we have American military presence.
So we wanted to figure out how we could get more quickly a fast reaction team to try to help prevent what happened in Benghazi.
DUCKWORTH: Thank you.
So this ISAT process that the joint teams at DOD and State that goes out, and initially looked at the 19 posts, that's great that they come back with a report. It's kind of like, you know, the seven reports do this, and now we have another committee. We can keep having committees to look into Benghazi, but we never act on them. It doesn't help our men and women on the ground. And that's what I'm focused on.
So what I want to know is, with these ISATs, so they came back with their recommendations to you. Have they been resourced? Are they institutionalized? Is -- what has been done with this process so that it's not a snapshot in time in reaction to Benghazi attack? And I want to make sure that, you know, at the very least, we're continuing that cooperation, or at least there's some sort of institutionalization of the review process to make sure that if it's not those 19 posts, if the shift now is there's 20 posts or some other posts. What has been done to make sure it's institutionalized?
CLINTON: Well, that was one of the changes that I instituted before I left. And I'm confident that Secretary Kerry and his counterpart, Secretary Carter, at the Defense Department are continuing that. Because I think it was very useful. Certainly, it was useful for our security professionals and our diplomats to be partnered in that way with the Defense Department.
You know, historically, the only presence at some of our facilities has been Marines. And as you know well, Marines were there not for the purpose of personnel protection. They were there to destroy classified material and equipment. And so part of the challenge that we have faced inn some of these hot-spot, dangerous areas is how we get more of a presence. And after Benghazi, we were able to get Marines deployed to Tripoli.
So this is a constant effort between the State Department and the Defense Department, but it's my strong belief that the ISAT process has been and should be institutionalized and we should keep learning from it.
DUCKWORTH: I'd like to touch on the quadrennial reviews. Again, coming from Armed Services, even as a young platoon leader out in, you know, in a platoon, we got and read the defense quadrennial review, which is a review that happens on a periodic basis, that gives the individual soldier an idea of what the Defense Department is trying to do.
[11:30:13] And I understand you initiated something similar in the State Department.