Clinton: Nobody More Committed to Security

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes her seat on on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, prior to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the September attack in Benghazi, Libya.
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By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress Wednesday that she is committed to improving security at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide after the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.

Clinton, in probably her last appearance on Capitol Hill as secretary of state, said she is determined to leave the department and country "safer, stronger and more secure."

She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that no one is more committed to "getting this right."

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She was testifying about the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

She was referring to implementing the 29 recommendations of an independent review board that was highly critical of the State Department.

Clinton was the sole witness at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panels on the September raid, the independent panel's review and steps the Obama administration has taken to beef up security at U.S. facilities worldwide.

Clinton had been scheduled to testify before Congress last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain forced her to postpone her appearance.

Her marathon day on Capitol Hill will probably be her last in Congress before she steps down as secretary of state. President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to succeed her, and his swift Senate confirmation is widely expected. Kerry's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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Clinton's testimony was to focus on the attack after more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation in Libya and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.

"It's been a cover-up from the beginning," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday.

Politics play an outsized role in any appearance by Clinton, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and is the subject of constant speculation about a possible bid in 2016. The former first lady and New York senator — a polarizing figure dogged by controversy — is about to end her four-year tenure at the State Department with high favorable ratings.

A poll early last month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65 percent of Americans held a favorable impression of Clinton, compared with 29 percent unfavorable.

Challenging Clinton at the hearing will be two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates — Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul, also a new member of the committee.

Clinton did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work at the State Department after her illness. On the subject of retirement, she said, "I don't know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Clinton would focus on the Accountability Review Board's independent assessment of the attack and the State Department's work to implement its findings.

"Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the panel said in its report last month.

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The report singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs, saying there appeared to be a lack of cooperation and confusion over protection at the mission in Benghazi. The report described a security vacuum in Libya after rebel forces toppled the decades-long regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.