Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likely will face tough questions about the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya — including how the U.S. ambassador went missing for several hours during the assault — when she meets Wednesday with the House and Senate foreign affairs committees.
The appearance, likely to be her last before Congress, will cap her time as secretary of state by revisiting one of the most bitterly contested and controversial episodes of her tenure.
Some Republicans have charged that the Obama administration deliberately blurred or tried to hide the fact that the attack was the work of terrorists linked to al Qaeda, who killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Officials initially said that the assault appeared to have grown out of a protest against a U.S.-made Web video insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Officials say they acted in good faith, passing along the best information they had at the time, which was contradictory and incomplete.
Other Republicans have refrained from accusing the administration of a political cover-up, preferring to focus on questions about why the State Department rejected requests from Stevens for more security and why the U.S. military failed to respond more quickly to the attack, which unfolded in two phases over more than seven hours at the diplomatic compound and a CIA annex a few miles away.
A State Department official Monday said Mrs. Clinton has gone to great lengths to be responsive to Congress. As a former senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton has a more appreciative attitude toward congressional oversight than many fellow officials, the official added.
The secretary’s testimony will cap more than 30 briefings and hearings by multiple agencies before half a dozen congressional committees, the official added.
Multiple congressional investigations into the attack are under way, and the State Department’s own mandatory investigation — called an Accountability Review Board — last month published a short, unclassified report and 24 recommendations.
But some Republicans say they have not had all their questions answered.
“I want to know what lessons have been learned,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said Sunday.
“I want to know what she was doing. Did she give any orders during this whole process? Take a look at it from before, during and after the attacks,” he told CNN.
Stevens disappeared on the night of the attack after he became separated from his security detail inside the main building of the compound, which had been set on fire. Several hours later, his body was brought to the Benghazi Medical Center by a half-dozen Libyan “good Samaritans,” who entered the compound “among the hordes of looters and bystanders” after the U.S. personnel had been evacuated and the attackers had dispersed, according to the State Department report.
The group told Libyan doctors at the hospital that they found Stevens‘ body in the main building at the compound, dragged him out through a window and tried to revive him, but their identities remain unknown and their account is unconfirmed.
The report also failed to provide a cause of death for the ambassador, stating only that the Libyan doctors at the hospital concluded he had died of “apparent smoke inhalation.”
It also remains unclear exactly who was monitoring streaming video footage being transmitted by two U.S. military drones that were flying over Benghazi on the night of the attack. The pictures were monitored at a Defense Department facility but were not fed to the White House, a senior official said.