Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Live Coverage of Clinton Testifying Before Benghazi Committee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired October 22, 2015 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, D-ILL.: 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.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Right.
DUCKWORTH: And this goes to -- there's been discussion already about the culture at the State Department, especially when it comes to security. I found that the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review is really good at instilling culture throughout the department.
Can you talk a little bit how and why you decided to do the review for the State Department? Was it useful? Is it useful? Is it getting out there? Is it a waste of time, and we shouldn't be wasting money on it and we should be doing something else?
CLINTON: Well, I hope it's not the latter. I learned about the Quadrennial Defense Review serving on Armed Services Committee in the Senate during my time there.
I agree with you completely, Congresswoman. It is a very successful road map as to where we should be going. And I'm impressed as a platoon leader, it was something you too into account. So, when I came to the State Department, there had never been anything like this done, there was no road map.
And the State Department, USAID would come up and fight for the money they could get out of Congress, no matter who was in charge of the Congress, every single year. It is one percent of the entire budget. And it was very difficult to explain effectively what it is we were trying to achieve.
So it did institute the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Diplomacy And Development Review. And one of the key questions that we were addressing is, what is this balance between risk and reward when it comes to our diplomats and our development professionals?
Because the first thing I heard when I got to the State Department was a litany of complaints from a lot of our most experienced diplomats that they were being ham-strung. That the security requirements were so intense, that they were basically unable to do their jobs. And of course, then, from the security professionals, who were all part of this, what we call the QDDR, they were saying, we don't want you to go beyond the fence.
We can't protect you in all of these dangerous circumstances. How you balance that -- and it is a constant balancing of risk and reward, in terms of what we hope our diplomats and development professionals can do. So, it has been twice now. Secretary Kerry, in his tenure, has done the second QDDR. And I hope it becomes as important and as much of a road map as the QDR has for our Defense Department and our military services.
DUCKWORTH: Thank you. I'm out of time, Mr. Chairman.
REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C., CHAIRMAN, BENGHAZI COMMITTEE: Thank you the gentle lady from Illinois. The chair will now recognize the gentlelady from Alabama, Ms. Roby.
REP. MARTHA ROBY, R-ALA.: Good morning.
CLINTON: Good morning.
ROBY: Secretary Clinton, some I colleagues have focused on your relationship with the Ambassador Chris Stevens, and why you sent him into Benghazi in 2011 as part of your broader Libya initiative.
But it's not so clear from everything that we've reviewed that you had a vision in Benghazi going forward into 2012 and beyond. It appears that there was confusion and uncertainly within your own department about Libya. And quite frankly, Secretary Clinton, it appears that you were a large cause of that uncertainty.
And we have seen all the day-to-day updates and concern early in 2011. And I heard what you said to my colleague, Ms. Brooks. And I'll get to that in a minute.
But showing that Libya, and for that matter Benghazi, belonged to you in 2011. It was yours, so to speak. And from your own records that we have, we saw a drop in your interest in Libya and Benghazi in 2012.
Not only do the records show your drop in interest in Benghazi, it was even noticed by your own staff. I want to point this out to you -- I say this, because I want to point you to an e-mail in early February 2012, between two staffers at your Libya desk that says, you didn't know whether we still even had a presence in Benghazi.
Let's not use my words. Let's use theirs. This can be found at tab 31. The e-mail says -- and it is dated February 9, 2012. One writes to the other about an encounter that she had with you.
Quote, "Also, the secretary also asked last week if we still have a presence in Benghazi. I think she would be upset to hear, yes, we do. But because we don't have enough security, they are on lockdown," end quote.
And I say this is very troubling to me because it raises several issues that I would like to ask you about. I'm struck by the first part, quote, "The secretary asked last week if we still have a presence in Benghazi." Now, you pointed out to Mrs. Brooks in her last line of questioning, based on the e-mail stacks here, that you engaged in a lot of conversations and briefings. So, I'm assuming that this conversation with this member of your staff took place in one of those briefings.
But then she sent this e-mail asking about this. So, how can this be that two of your staffers are e-mailing about whether or not you even knew if we had a presence in Benghazi in 2012, with all your interest in Libya in 2011, including your trip in October of 2011? And that months later, we come to find out you didn't even know we had a presence there?
CLINTON: Well, I can't comment on what has been reported. Of course, I knew we had a presence in Benghazi. I knew that we were evaluating what that presence should be, how long it should continue. And I knew exactly what we were doing in Libya.
And I think it's important. Since you have very legitimate questions about what we were doing. You know, the United States played a role in the first election that the Libyan people had in 51 years. It was a successful election by every count. And they voted for moderates. They voted for the kind of people they wanted to govern them.
We had a very successful effort that the United States supported, getting rid of Gadhafi's remaining chemical weapons, which we led and supported the United Nations and others in being able to do.
We were combating the proliferation of weapons. That's one of the reasons why there was a CIA presence in Benghazi, because we were trying to figure out how to get those weapons out of the wrong hands, and get them collected in a way and destroyed. And in fact, we began reducing those heavy weapon stocks.
We were working on providing transition assistance to the Libyans. I met with the Libyans. I telephoned with the Libyans. I saw the Libyans all during this period. And it was hard. Because a lot of them knew what they wanted, but they didn't know how to get from where they were to that goal.
And we did an enormous amount of work. My two deputies, Tom Nides and Bill Burns, went to Libya. Other officials in the State Department went to Libya. So there was a constant, continuing effort that I led to try to see what we could do to help.
Now, one of the problems we faced is that the Libyans did not really feel that welcome a peace-keeping mission. They couldn't welcome foreign troops to their soil. That made it really difficult. And it didn't have to be American troops, it could have been troops from anywhere in the world under a U.N. Mandate that might have helped them begin to secure their country.
ROBY: Secretary Clinton, if I may, I hear what you're saying, but this e-mail says something very, very different.
CLINTON: Well, I -- you know, I can't speak to that. I can just tell you what I was doing, and I was doing a lot.
ROBY: Sure. But these -- this was your staff. And I...
ROBY: If they had this conversation with you, why would they make it up?
But I want to move on. This e-mail, you know, makes me wonder about the vision for Benghazi, because they're asking if you -- they're saying that you asked if we still had a presence. But if you -- you know, we look at the second part of the e-mail, quote, "And I think she would be upset to say, yes, we do," I...
CLINTON: Congresswoman, I'm sorry. I have no recollection of, or no knowledge of -- of course...
ROBY: Well, please turn to tab 31, because it's right there.
CLINTON: Well, I trust that you have read it. But I also tell you that we had a presence in Benghazi. We had members of the administration and Congress visiting Benghazi.
So, of course, I knew we had a presence in Benghazi. I can't speak to what someone either heard or misheard. But I think what's important, and I understand that the underlying point of your request question is, what were we doing about Libya? And after Gadhafi fell.
ROBY: Right. And I've heard that first part.
CLINTON: And that's what I'm trying to explain to you about what we were doing.
ROBY: Yes, ma'am. I want to get to the second part of the e- mail that suggests that we were in lockdown, that you would have been upset to know yes -- heard the first part of your answer -- but that we were in lockdown. And you've said on numerous occasions, including in your opening statement, on point number one, you know, America must lead and we must represent in dangerous places, quote, "They can't do their jobs for us in bunkers."
And essentially what we know is that there weren't the required number of security on the ground in order for the individual to even move about the country to provide you with what you have reiterated on numerous occasions as being very important at that time, which is political reporting.
CLINTON: Well, could -- could you tell me who is -- who are the names on this e-mail that you're talking about?
ROBY: Sure. I can. Turn to tab 31. You have a book in front of you. It is Alice Abdallah and I'm going to pronounce it wrong, Enya Sodarais (ph)? Is that correct?
CLINTON: They were not on my staff. I'm not in any way contradicting what they think they heard or what they heard somebody say. But the people that I know...
ROBY: Can you tell me who they were if they were not on your staff?
CLINTON: They were not on my -- they were in the State Department, along with thousands of other people. They were not part of the secretary staff. But I get what you're saying, Congresswoman. And I want to focus on this. I think it's a fair and important question.
The facility in Benghazi was a temporary facility. There had been no decision made as to whether or not it would be permanent. It was not even a consulate. Our embassy was in Tripoli. Obviously much of the work that we were doing was going through the embassy.
There was a very vigorous discussion on the part of people who were responsible for making a recommendation about Benghazi as to what form of consulate, what form of facility it should be. Chris Stevens believed that it should be a formal consulate.
But that was something that had to be worked out. And there had not yet been a decision at the time that the attack took place. So it was not a permanent facility. And, you know, there were a number of questions that people were asking about whether it could or should be.
ROBY: I want to drill down on the security issue. But I also want to say it's frustrating for us here on this panel asking these questions to hear you in your opening statement talk about the responsibility you took for all 70 plus thousand employees, yet I read you an e-mail between two of those employees and it seems as though you're just kind of brushing it off as not having any knowledge.
CLINTON: I'm just saying I have no recollection of it and it doesn't correspond with the facts of what we were doing on a regular basis. ROBY: Well if we talk for just a minute about the security, I have a few seconds left. In 2011, during the revolution, then envoy Stevens had 10 agents with him on the ground in Benghazi. And then we know in 2012 where the security situation had deteriorated even further, there were only three agents assigned to Benghazi.
Again, can't even move anybody off of the facility to do the necessary political reporting. And my question is, you know, why did you not acknowledge, because of your interest in 2011, the importance of having those security officers there to do what was so important to you, which was the political reporting? Then in 2011, 2010, and when an am bass doctor was there, three, and he brought two of his own the night of the attack, which would meet the requisite five, but there was really only three there at any given time. So if you could address that, again, I'm running a little short on time.
CLINTON: Well, he did have five with him on September 11th and...
ROBY: Well, he brought two, right? He brought two with him, there were three there, and there were...
CLINTON: Right. But the point was they were personal security. So they were there to secure him. So yes, he did bring two. When he got there, he had five.
ROBY: Can you address the discrepancy?
CLINTON: The day before September 10th he went in to Benghazi. He went to a luncheon with leading civic leaders, business leaders in Benghazi. So he felt very comfortable. It was his decision. Ambassadors do not have to seek permission from the State Department to travel around the country that they are assigned to.
He decided to go to Benghazi by taking two security officers with him and having three there, he had the requisite five that had been the subject of discussion between the embassy and the State Department security professionals.
I'm not going to in any way suggest that he or the embassy got everything they requested. We know that they didn't from the Accountability Review Board, by investigations that were done by the Congress. We know that there were a lot of discussions about what was needed, particularly in Benghazi. And that the day that he died he had five security officers.
A lot of security professionals who have reviewed this matter, even those who are critical, that the State Department did not do enough, have said that the kind of attack that took place would have been very difficult to repel. That's what we have to learn from, Congresswoman.
There are many lessons going back to Beirut, going back to Tehran and the take over of our embassy and going all the way through these years. And sometimes we learn lessons and we actually act and we do the best we can. And there's a perfect, terrible example of that with respect to what happened in Benghazi.
Certainly. And my time has expired. We will certainly never know what the outcome would have been if there had been more agents that night. I yield back.
CLINTON: Well, that's not what the professionals, that's not what the experts in security have concluded, if you have read the Accountability Review Board...
ROBY: I have read it Secretary Clinton. And it says that security was grossly in adequate.
CLINTON: Well, it said that there were deficiencies within two bureaus in the State Department which we have moved to correct and it also pointed out that the diplomatic security officers that were there acted heroically. There was not one single question about what they did. And they were overrun. And it was unfortunate that the agreement we had with the CIA annex and when those brave men showed up that it was also not enough.
ROBY: Certainly. We'll discuss this more. I have to yield back.
GOWDY: The gentle lady's time has expired. The chair will now recognizes the gentleman from Washington.
REP. ADAM SMITH, D-WASH.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you Madam Secretary for being here. Just to clarify, you knew we had a presence.
CLINTON: Of course I knew, I knew, Congressman, of course.
SMITH: Going back to your earlier question, you were also aware of those two attacks on your compounds even though you didn't e-mail about it.
CLINTON: Yes, I was aware.
SMITH: And that I think sort of points out, I mean, after 17 months and $4.7 million, as the ranking member pointed out in his opening statements, and as we've seen today, you know, this committee is simply not doing its job. And I don't really think it should have been formed in the first place.
But what we have heard here is well, first of all, an obsession with e-mail. The idea that two fairly junior level staffers might not have gotten something wrong in what they heard or the information in an e-mail might, in fact, not be accurate, are certainly not things that should be news to anybody. But it is the obsession with the e- mails that takes us off what should have been the task of this committee.
I also find it interesting that Mr. Obi's (ph) final comments were to quote the ARB report. Yes, the ARB report I think was very good. I think we absolutely had to have it. I think it was appropriate for the committees and Congress to do the investigations they did. But all of that begs the question as to why we've spent the $4.7 million we have spent on this.
And even in the chairman's opening remarks, it was primarily a defense of the committee's existence. Not any new information. Not here's what we, in those 17 months and $4.7 million have figured out that is new and different. Nothing. In fact, we have heard nothing. Even in today's hearing. Not a single solitary thing that hasn't already been discussed repeatedly. So we have learned absolutely nothing.
Yes, we have uncovered a trove of new information. In this age, I don't think there's ever an end to e-mails. We could probably go on for another two years and we'd find more. The question is what we found anything substantively that tells us something different about what happened in Benghazi? And the answer to that question is no.
Look, I didn't think this committee should have been formed in the first place. But if it was going to be formed, the least we could do is to actually focus on the four brave Americans who were killed, why they were killed, and focus on Benghazi. And we have not. Mr. Roskam's questions I found to be the most interesting. Basically -- I don't know, it was like he was running for president.
He wanted to debate you on overall Libya policy as to why we got in the first place. And that's debatable. And I think you will argue that quite well. But that's not about the attack on Benghazi. That's not about what we could have done in Benghazi to better protect them.
So again, I think we have seen hat this committee is focused on you. And I'm the ranking member of the Armed Services committee. I don't see the Department of Defense here. I don't see the CIA here. There were many, many other agencies involved in this. And yet yours has been the one they have obsessively focused on. And I think that's a shame for a whole lot of reasons.
SMITH: For one thing, this committee, as it has been in the news the last several weeks, has been yet one more step in denigrating this institution. And I happen to think this institution needs more support, not less. So I wish we would stop doing that.
And I -- you know, you mentioned Beirut, and that was the first though that occurred to me when this happened, was a Democratic Congress at the time did a fair and quick investigation of what was an unspeakable tragedy -- two separate suicide bombings four months apart. And there was clearly inadequate security. But the focus there was not on partisanship, not on embarrassing the Reagan administration, but in actually figuring out what happened and how we can better protect Americans.
Now, I wonder if I could just ask questions about what I think is the central issue, and that is how do we have that presence in the world that you described in what is an increasingly dangerous world? Because as I've traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Yemen and other places, I'm consistently amazed by the willingness of our diplomatic corps to put their lives at risk. And I wonder how do you balance that very difficult decision. Because frankly, what I've heard more often from that diplomatic corps is that they chafe at the restrictions.
I mean, I remember vividly being in Peshawar, which is, you know -- I mean, I didn't like the ride from the airport to the embassy, which was 10 minutes, and we were there for, I don't know, a few hours and then out. You know, the State Department personnel, they live there and went out amongst the community. How do you try and strike that balance of, you know, being present and at the same time meeting the security obligations?
And then most importantly, who drives that decision? Because it seems to me in most instances it is driven by the diplomatic corps there. If they take risks, it's because they've decided to do it. They're there. They know the security situation certainly better than the secretary and better than most everybody else. What is the proper way to strike that balance going forward to protect our personnel and still fulfill their mission?
CLINTON: Congressman, I think that is the most important question, and I would certainly welcome Congressional discussion and debate about this because it's what we tried to do -- going back to Congresswoman Duckworth's question, what we tried to begin to do in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first one that was ever done, because that's exactly what we were facing. You know, we have had diplomats and development professionals in war zones now for a number of years. We've had them in places that are incredibly unstable and dangerous because of ongoing conflicts. It is, I think, the bias of the diplomacy corps that they be there because that's what they signed up for. And they know that if America is not represented, then we leave a vacuum and we lose our eyes and our ears about what people are thinking and doing.
It is certainly the hardest part of the job in many of our agencies and departments today. And it was for me in the State Department. That's why I relied on the security professionals because by the time I got there in 2009, the diplomatic security professionals had been taking care of American diplomats in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan for years. And they had learned a lot of the lessons and they were forced to make tough decisions all the time.
You mentioned Peshawar, one of clearly the high threat posts that the United States maintains a presence in. But when you think that since 2001 we've had 100 of our facilities attacked, if we were to shut them all down, if we were to pull out from all of them, we would be blinding ourselves. So it's a constant balancing act. What are the risks and what are the rewards for opening, maintaining and/or closing a site.
I don't know that there's any hard and fast rule that we can adopt. We just have to get better at making that assessment, Congressman, and your question really goes to the heart of it. When you were as a member of Congress in Peshawar, you were guarded by our diplomatic security professionals. They had to assess was it safe enough for a member of Congress to come, how do we get him from the airport to the embassy.
It won't surprise you to hear we've had attacks there as so many other places around the world. And that is a heavy responsibility, and the diplomatic security professionals get it right 999 times out of a thousand. And it's deeply distressing to them when anything goes wrong.
We have lost non-Americans with some of these attacks on facilities. We've lost our locally-employed staff. They never want to see any successful attack, so they have to be -- they have to be right 100 percent of the time, the terrorists only have to be right once. And, you know, that's why this is really at the core of what I tried to do before even I got the Accountability Review Board, going back to the QDDR, to come up with a better way of trying to make those assessments.
SMITH: Madam Secretary, if I may, just two final points. I mean, so the bottom line is Benghazi on 9/11/2012 was not the only dangerous place in the world where our security personnel were and where these difficult decisions had to be made.
SMITH: And the other point I want to make before my time expires, now this was in 2012, so we were only a couple of years into this, but Secretary of Defense Ash Carter just I think yesterday wrote an editorial in the Wall Street journal about the impact of five years of budget uncertainty on the DOD's ability to function. I mean, for five years, we have gone through C.R.s, threatened government shutdowns, one actual government shutdown, and constant budget uncertainty.
Now, my area is the Department of Defense. I know how it's impacted them. They basically from one week to the next barely know what they can spend money on. Now, one of the criticisms is that there should have been more security, but if you don't have a budget, if you don't have an appropriations bill, how does that complicate your job as secretary in trying to figure out what money you can spend?
CLINTON: Well, it makes it very difficult, Congressman. And this is a subject that we talked about all the time, how do you plan. How do you know -- you know, you have so many diplomatic security officers in so many dangerous places, how do you know what you're going to have to be able to deploy and where are you going to have to make the choices.
That's why the prioritization, which shouldn't have to be, in my view, the responsibility of the officials in the State Department or the Defense Department to try to guess what makes the most sense. We should have a much more orderly process for our budget.
And I will say again, as secretary of State, the kind of dysfunction and failure to make decisions that we have been living with in our government hurts us. It hurts us in the obvious ways, like where you're going to deploy forces if you're in DOD or where we're going to send security if you're in the Department of State.
But it hurts us as the great country that we are, being viewed from an abroad as unable to handle our own business. And so it has a lot of consequences. And it's something that I wish that we could get over and have our arguments about policy, have our arguments about substance, but get back to regular order, where we have the greatest nation in the world with a budget that then they can plan against as opposed to the uncertainty that has stalked us now for so long.
SMITH: Thank you, Madam Secretary. So the bottom line is Congress needs to do its job.
CLINTON: Right. I agree with that. GOWDY: The gentlemen yields back. And I'll be happy to get a copy of my opening statement for the gentleman from Washington so he can refresh his recollection on all the things our committee found that your previous committee missed. And with that I'll go to the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Westmoreland.
REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND, R-GA.: Thank you. Madam Secretary, I talk a little slower than everybody else, so...
CLINTON: I lived in Arkansas a long time. I don't need an interpreter, Congressman. WESTMORELAND: So some of the questions I'm asking you can just get a yes-or-no answer, that would be great. But I do want you to give us a full answer.
But Mr. Smith from Washington mentioned there was no new facts brought out in some of these interviews, and I want to just say that I think he was at one interview for one hour. I have been at a bunch of those and there has been a lot of new facts that's come out.
One of the things he said, it doesn't -- that you knew about these two incidents that have been mentioned previously. It's not a matter if you knew about them, it's a matter of what you did about them. And to us, the answer to that is nothing. Now, you say you were briefed by the CIA every morning that you were in Washington; is that correct?
CLINTON: That's correct.
WESTMORELAND: Did they ever mention to you Assistant Acting Director Morrell wrote in his book that there were scores of intelligence pieces describing in detail how the situation in Libya was becoming more and more dangerous. Did you ever read any of these pieces?
CLINTON: Yes. As I've previously stated, we were certainly aware that the situation across Libya was becoming more dangerous, and that there were particular concerns about eastern Libya.
WESTMORELAND: Did you read the piece that was Libya, Al Qaida establishing sanctuary?
[12:00:02] CLINTON: I'm aware that that was certainly among the information provided to me.