Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. John McCain’s questions on the Benghazi attack

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 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. John McCain (R-Ariz.): 

Thank you, Madame Secretary. It’s wonderful to see you in good health and as combative as ever.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: [Laughter]

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): 

We thank you. We thank you for your outstanding and dedicated service to this nation, and we are proud of you. All over the world where I traveled, you are viewed with admiration and respect.

Four months – or months after the Benghazi tragedy – it’s a tragedy when we lose 4 brave Americans – there are many questions unanswered. And the answers, frankly, that you’ve given us this morning are not satisfactory to me.

Were you and the President made aware of the classified cable from Chris Stevens said “The United States consulate in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault”? Numerous warnings, including personally to me, about security were unanswered or unaddressed.

It took a CNN reporter looking through the consulate to find Chris Stevens’s last warning. When were you made aware of that cable? When were you made aware of the attack on the British Ambassador and the assassination attempts and the closing of the consulates there? And what actions were taken?

What was the President’s activity during that 7-hour period?

On the anniversary of the worst attack in American history – Sept. 11 – we didn’t have Department of Defense forces available for 7 hours. Two brave Americans died in the last hour.

With all these warnings, with all these things, we didn’t have a single Department of Defense asset apparently available to come to these rescues.

I categorically reject your answer to Sen. Johnson about well we didn’t ask these survivors who were flown to Ramstein the next day that this was not a spontaneous demonstration. To say it’s because of an investigation was going on? The American people deserve to know answers and they certainly don’t deserve false answers. And the answers that were given to the American people on Sept. 15th by the Ambassador to the United Nations were false – in fact, contradicted by the classified information, which was kept out of the Secretary of the United Nations’ report. By the way, in the President’s words, had nothing to do Benghazi, which questions why she was sent out to start with.

Why is it that the administration still refuses to supply the full text of emails regarding the department’s deletion of references to Al Qaeda and terrorism in the talking points? Why do we care? Because if the classified information had been included, it gives an entirely different version of events to the American people. Going to the American people and tell them what happened, then you ought to have your facts straight, including the Ambassador said “Al Qaeda is decimated and our consulates and embassies are secure.”

So here we are 4 months later and we still don’t have the basic information. Now, if you want to go out and tell the American people what happened, you should at least have interviewed the people who were there instead of saying no we couldn’t talk to them because of an FBI investigation was going on.

And by the way, as I said at the time, I just happened to be on one of those talk shows – people don’t bring RPGs and mortars to spontaneous demonstrations – that’s a fundamental.

And of course, the President continued to say days afterwards – Sept. 12 he made a reference to act of terror, Sept. 12 on 60 minutes “Too early to know”, Sept. 20 on Univision “We’re still doing an investigation, Sept. 24 on the View “We’re still doing an investigation.”

The President of the United States as late as Sept. 24 – two weeks later – did not acknowledge that this was an act of terror conducted by people who were at least somehow connected to the Al Qaeda.

Finally, Madame Secretary, I strongly disagree with your depiction with what we did after Qaddafi fell. We did not provide the security that was needed. We did not help them with border security. We did not give them the kind of assistance that would have been necessary to help dismantle the militias that still to this day remain a challenge to democracy in Libya and freedom.

You knew Chris Stevens very well; I knew him very well. I knew him on July 7 when I went to Libya to observe the elections. And at that time on July 7th he expressed to me his deep and grave concerns about security, particularly in Benghazi, and he continued to communicate with the State Department and I don’t know who else was privy to those cables of his deep concerns about the security there and the need for additional assistance.

And I would argue with facts that after that even took place – after the fall of Qaddafi – “the soft footprint” was partially to some degrees responsible for the tragedy that took place.

The American people and the families of these 4 brave Americans still have not gotten the answers that they deserve. I hope that they will get them.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, Senator, I understand your very, very strong feelings. You knew Chris. You were a friend of Chris. You’re one of the staunchest supporters of the efforts to dislodge Qaddafi and try to give the Libyan people a chance.

And we just have a disagreement. We have a disagreement about what did happen and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events.

We did get to talk to the DS [diplomatic security] agents when they got back to this country. We did so – it was not before Sept. 15th. We had no access to the surveillance cameras for weeks, which helped to answer a number of questions.

But with respect to helping the Libyans – and that also goes to the question Sen. Rubio asked – we will provide a list of everything we were doing and were attempting to do.

But I will also tell you that since March 2011, Congressional holds have been placed on programs for many months for aid to Libya. We’ve had frequent Congressional complaints – “Why are we doing anything for Libya? It’s a wealthy country; it has oil.” – disagreements from some sources that we should have never been part of any U.N. Mission in Libya. Currently, the House has holds on bilateral security assistance, on other kinds of support for anti-terrorism assistance.

So we got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority and if we are serious about trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together.

So I hope that we can have the kind of discussion where we can agree on certain approaches that will make a difference.

We – again I would urge that you look and read both the classified and unclassified versions of the ARB that tries to deal with the very questions that you and Sen. Johnson are raising – the timing of it and the like. But I also hope we’re looking forward because right now Libya is still dangerous; it is still in a very unstable status, and whatever we can do for them we at least ought to agree we need to do and get out there and start delivering.

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2 Comments on “Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. John McCain’s questions on the Benghazi attack

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