Transcript of the testy exchange between Clinton & Sen. Ron Johnson over Susan Rice’s comments on Benghazi

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held on Jan. 23, 2013: 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

…Were you fully aware in real-time – again, I realize how big your job is and everything’s erupting in the Middle East at this time – were you fully aware of these 20 incidents reported in the ARB in real-time?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention. They were part of our ongoing discussion about the deteriorating threat environment in eastern Libya. We certainly were very conscious of them. I was assured by our security professionals that repairs were underway, additional upgrades had taken place.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.):

Did you personally see the cable – I believe it’s on Aug. 12 – specifically asking for basic reinforcements for the security team details who’s going to be evacuating or leaving in August? Did you see that personally?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

No, sir.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

Okay. When you read the ARB, it strikes me as how certain the people were that the attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoken – or have you ever spoken to the returnees, the evacuees? Did you personally speak to those folks?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

I’ve spoken to one of them but I waited until the ARB had done its investigation because I did not want there to be any – anybody raising any issue that I have spoken to anyone before the ARB conducted its investigation.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

How many people were evacuated in Libya?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, the numbers are a little hard to pin down because of our friends. Approximately 25 to 30.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks very shortly afterwards?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

There was discussion going on afterwards but once the investigation started, the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them. So other than our people in Tripoli – which I think you’re talking about Washington, right?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

Yeah, the point I’m making is a very simple phone call to these individuals, I think, would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. I mean, this attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time, and it was an assault. I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault. But I mean, I’m going back to Ambassador [Susan] Rice 5 days later going on the Sunday shows and what I would say purposely misleading the American public.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, Sen -

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

Why, why wasn’t that known and, again, I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing. But why weren’t we transparent at that point in time?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was number one, taking care of their injuries. As I said, I still have a DS [diplomatic security] agent at Walter Reeds seriously injured.

Getting them into Frankfurt Ramstein to get taken care of. The FBI going over immediately to start talking to them. We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews.

So – and we did not – I think this is accurate, sir. I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC [intelligence community] talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.

And you know, I just want to say that, you know, people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans. I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth. Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially? And I appreciate -

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

[Interrupting] Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily – easily – obtained.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, but Senator, again…

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

[Interrupting] Within hours, if not days.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Senator, I – you know, when you’re in these positions the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process that’s…[overlapping audio]

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

[Interrupting] I realize that. [Overlapping audio]  I realize that’s a good excuse.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Number two – well, no, it’s the fact.

Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised.

Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists; they were militants; they attacked us; they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still –

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

[Interrupting] No! No! No! No! I – again, again – we were mislead. There was supposedly protests and something sprang out of that – an assault sprang out of that, and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

With all due respect, the fact is we had 4 dead Americans…

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): 

[Interrupting] I understand that.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

…Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans. What difference – at this point, what difference does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything that we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real-time to get to the best information. The IC [intelligence community] has a process I understand going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came bout.

But you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

###

 

Learn More:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>