Evan Vucci/AP

Hillary Clinton Faces the Benghazi Committee

Both the Democratic front-runner and her GOP questioners said they were focused on finding the truth, not politics.

In a highly an­ti­cip­ated ap­pear­ance be­fore the Benghazi Com­mit­tee on Cap­it­ol Hill, Hil­lary Clin­ton on Thursday said she was there to hon­or the memory of the four Amer­ic­ans killed in the 2012 at­tacks and called for bi­par­tis­an re­spect and co­oper­a­tion in the wake of ques­tions about “par­tis­an agen­das.”

“We should res­ist den­ig­rat­ing the pat­ri­ot­ism or loy­alty of those with whom we dis­agree. So I’m here,” she said. “Des­pite all the pre­vi­ous in­vest­ig­a­tions and all the talk about par­tis­an agen­das, I’m here to hon­or those we lost.”

Clin­ton paid trib­ute to the Amer­ic­ans killed in the Benghazi at­tacks, fo­cus­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion on Am­bas­sad­or Chris Stevens. “It is a test­a­ment to the re­la­tion­ships that he built in Libya that on the day fol­low­ing the aware­ness of his death, tens of thou­sands of Liby­ans poured in­to the streets in Benghazi,” she said, not­ing that many of them held signs hon­or­ing his memory and con­demning his death.

Clin­ton also noted that it’s im­possible to pre­vent every ter­ror­ist at­tack and that Amer­ica has “learned the hard way” what hap­pens when the coun­try stops send­ing dip­lo­mats to dan­ger­ous places.

“Amer­ica must lead in a dan­ger­ous world and our dip­lo­mats must con­tin­ue rep­res­ent­ing us in dan­ger­ous places,” she said. “Chris Stevens un­der­stood that dip­lo­mats must op­er­ate in many places where our sol­diers do not, where there are no oth­er boots on the ground, and safety is far from guar­an­teed.”

She took the op­por­tun­ity to take a shot at Bush-era Middle East­ern policy, or “for­eign policy that puts boots on the ground as a first choice rather than a last re­sort.”

Clin­ton also noted that Benghazi is far from the first situ­ation in which Amer­ic­an dip­lo­mats were killed abroad: She named the Beirut at­tacks un­der Pres­id­ent Re­agan, al-Qaeda at­tacks in Kenya and Tan­zania dur­ing her hus­band’s pres­id­ency, and post 9/11 vi­ol­ence un­der Pres­id­ent George W. Bush.

As the ques­tion­ing got un­der­way, GOP Reps. Peter Roskam and Susan Brooks fo­cused primar­ily on the se­cur­ity situ­ation in Benghazi lead­ing up to the at­tacks, in­clud­ing how much Clin­ton knew about it and how much she was pay­ing at­ten­tion to Libya gen­er­ally. Brooks poin­ted out that Clin­ton re­ceived daily and some­times hourly up­dates on Libya in 2011, but that the up­dates were far less fre­quent in 2012.

“I did not con­duct most of the busi­ness that I did … over email,” Clin­ton replied, out­lining her daily sched­ule at State and the vari­ous brief­ings and meet­ings at which she would have been in­formed of hap­pen­ings in Libya. Clin­ton noted that she was rarely on her email dur­ing the day, “ex­cept on rare oc­ca­sions when I was able to.”

In his open­ing state­ment, Benghazi Com­mit­tee Chair­man Trey Gowdy de­fen­ded the com­mit­tee’s ac­tions, say­ing his com­mit­tee’s work is jus­ti­fied by the ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion it has been able to un­cov­er.

“I un­der­stand some people—frankly in both parties—have sug­ges­ted this in­vest­ig­a­tion is about you. Let me as­sure you it is not,” Gowdy said. “And let me as­sure you why it is not: This work is about something much more im­port­ant than any single per­son. It is about four U.S. gov­ern­ment work­ers, in­clud­ing our am­bas­sad­or, murdered by ter­ror­ists on for­eign soil.”

About five minutes in, Gowdy made his first ref­er­ence to Clin­ton’s private email serv­er, not­ing that this Benghazi Com­mit­tee was the first to un­cov­er her “un­usu­al email ar­range­ment.”

“This com­mit­tee is the first com­mit­tee, the only com­mit­tee, to un­cov­er the fact that Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton ex­clus­ively used per­son­al email on her own per­son­al serv­er for of­fi­cial busi­ness and kept the pub­lic re­cord—in­clud­ing emails about Benghazi and Libya—in her own cus­tody and con­trol for al­most two years after she left of­fice,” Gowdy said. “And it was Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton’s law­yers who de­term­ined what would be re­turned and what would not be re­turned.”

Still, he ad­ded: “Your emails are no more or less im­port­ant than any­one else’s. It just took longer to get them and garnered more at­ten­tion in the pro­cess.”

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings fol­lowed up by blast­ing Gowdy and the Re­pub­lic­ans for politi­ciz­ing the Benghazi at­tacks, call­ing the com­mit­tee’s work a “tax­pay­er-fun­ded fish­ing ex­ped­i­tion.”

Re­pub­lic­ans “set up this se­lect com­mit­tee with no rules, no dead­line, and an un­lim­ited budget, and they set them loose, Madam Sec­ret­ary, be­cause you’re run­ning for pres­id­ent,” Cum­mings said to Clin­ton.

He name-checked GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates Carly Fior­ina, Mike Hucka­bee, Rand Paul, and Lind­sey Gra­ham for crit­ic­al com­ments they’d made about Clin­ton’s hand­ling of Benghazi.

“Why tell the Re­pub­lic­ans to shut up when they are telling the truth but not when they are at­tack­ing Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton with reck­less ac­cus­a­tions that are demon­strably false?” Cum­mings asked. “Why not tell them to shut up then?”

Cum­mings asked Clin­ton about the pre­vi­ous claims that she had per­son­ally denied re­quests for ad­di­tion­al se­cur­ity in Libya, and Clin­ton re­peated that she was un­aware of those re­quests.

“These re­quests, and is­sues re­lated to se­cur­ity, were rightly handled by the se­cur­ity pro­fes­sion­als in the de­part­ment. I did not see them, I did not ap­prove them, I did not deny them,” she said, not­ing that there was a stamp with her sig­na­ture that was used as “just part of the tra­di­tion.”

In an­oth­er line of ques­tion­ing, GOP Rep. Martha Roby sug­ges­ted per­haps Clin­ton was un­aware of the State De­part­ment’s full range of activ­it­ies in Benghazi and that Clin­ton her­self was the cause of “con­fu­sion” about the United States’ ef­forts there.

“We had mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­gress vis­it­ing Benghazi so of course I knew we had a pres­ence in Benghazi,” Clin­ton replied.