Continued from page 1

“Clearly, mistakes were made,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat.

“But let’s be absolutely clear: President Obama was not responsible for the Benghazi attack any more than President Reagan was responsible for the Marine barracks tragedy in Beirut or President George W. Bush for 9/11,” he added, referring to the 1983 terrorist attack in Lebanon and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The White House also came to Mrs. Clinton’s defense Wednesday, particularly on the issue of whether the administration had twisted the facts about Benghazi in its initial description of how the attack unfolded to minimize the role of al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans were engaged in an “obvious political obsession over a series of talking points” that have no significance in figuring out what happened in Benghazi, making sure it never happens again and bringing the attackers to justice.

“No one took more seriously the fact that we lost four American lives in Benghazi than the president of the United States and the secretary of state of the United States,” he said. “And whatever was said — based on information provided by the intelligence community — on a series of Sunday shows bears no ultimate relevance.”

But Mrs. Clinton’s responses on Capitol Hill fell short of satisfying Republicans.

“The answers, frankly, that you’ve given this morning are not satisfactory to me,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

“Were you and the president made aware of the classified cable from Chris Stevens [that] said that the United States Consulate in Benghazi could not survive a sustained assault?” he asked. Mr. McCain added that “numerous warnings, including personally to me, about the security were unanswered or unaddressed.”

“The American people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don’t deserve false answers,” he said.

‘A death trap’

In some of the most pointed exchanges of the day, Rep. Jeff Duncan, South Carolina Republican, accused Mrs. Clinton during the House hearing of letting the consulate in Benghazi “become a death trap, and that’s national security malpractice.” Mr. Duncan was one of a number of GOP lawmakers who noted that no one at the State Department had been fired for the failures at Benghazi.

Mrs. Clinton pointed out that she had directed the State Department’s mandatory investigation, called an Accountability Review Board, to produce a public version of its report in addition to a classified version.

“I believe in transparency. I believe in taking responsibility, and I have done so,” she said.

As far back as the night of the attack, when smoke was still clearing over the Benghazi compound, Republicans have raised questions about the relatively light security at the post in a town known to have large numbers of armed militants. On Sept. 11, it was guarded by five armed diplomatic security officers, four armed members of a friendly Libyan militia and a small force of unarmed local security guards.

The State Department internal report said that was totally inadequate in the face of dozens of heavily armed extremists who attacked that night.

Story Continues →