Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is taking “full responsibility” for the lack of security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, before the attack on the anniversary of 9/11 that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
While traveling in Peru, Mrs. Clinton attempted to take the focus off President Obama and the rest of the administration for failing to protect the diplomatic post and said an ongoing investigation will determine what happened in the attack.
“I take full responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton told CNN.
“I want to avoid some kind of political ‘gotcha,’ ” she added, referring to the upcoming presidential election just 22 days away.
For the first time, Mrs. Clinton described the State Department’s reaction in the immediate aftermath of the attack, saying it was an “intense, long ordeal” that night as State Department officials interpreted reports and tried to figure out what happened during the siege and torching of the U.S. mission.
She also stood by initial assessments by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other officials that the attack sprang from a protest over an anti-Islam film, an explanation that the administration has since rejected, acknowledging that the assault was an act of terrorism.
But the initial assessment had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with confusion in the wake of the attack, Mrs. Clinton said.
From this point forward, Mrs. Clinton said the State Department is trying to make sure such an attack with never happen again even in such dangerous places as Benghazi.
“We can’t not engage,” she said. “We cannot retreat.”
Key Republican senators said they appreciated Mrs. Clinton’s statement but blamed the White House for trying to avoid responsibility in the run up to the election. They argued that Mrs. Clinton’s admission only spurs more questions about the failure of President Obama’s national security team to keep the White House informed of the escalating security threats in Libya.
Mrs. Clinton’s statement comes the night before President Obama faces GOP rival Mitt Romney in the second presidential debate as polls continue to narrow and show momentum for Mr. Romney in the wake of his decisive win over Mr. Obama in their first meeting in Denver nearly two weeks ago.
During last Thursday’s debate against Mr. Romney’s running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, Vice President Joseph R. Biden denied that the administration was aware of requests for heightened security at the Benghazi consulate prior to the attack.
“We weren’t told they wanted more security there,” Mr. Biden said. “We did not know they wanted more security again.”
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s 2008 opponent, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire issued a sternly worded statement giving Mrs. Clinton credit for stepping up and taking responsibility but faulting Mr. Obama’s security team for failing to keep the president informed of critical threats.
“We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of Sept. 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility,” the senators said.