Wednesday’s hearings by the House Select Committee on Benghazi got off to a rocky start for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – even if she wasn’t in the room.
Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., grilled lead off witness Gregory Starr, an assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, noting that the department’s security procedures hadn’t improved since the 1998 twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania – and Clinton should be familiar with since she was in the White House at the time as first lady.
Since Clinton had been secretary of state since 2009, the responsibility for diplomatic facilities abroad had been hers for three years by the time of the Benghazi attack, according to the recommendations of the accountability review board that studied the 1998 bombings.
“The secretary of state should personally review the security situation of diplomatic facilities, closing those which are highly vulnerable and threatened,” Gowdy read to Starr.
“Why do you think the 1999 ARB went out of its way to use the word ‘personally,” Gowdy asked, implying that then-Secretary of State Clinton had not fulfilled the responsibility of the office.
Starr at first tried to put off the question with a “no comment” but eventually acknowledged he wasn’t with the State Department before the Benghazi attacks.
That didn’t cut it with Gowdy, a career federal prosecutor who shows it every time he questions a reluctant witness.
Check out the video here, via YouTube.
“The secretary of state shall take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel,” he read. “Is that being done now? And was it being done prior to your tenure?”
Starr tried to palm it off with an answer that all secretaries of state talked about diplomatic security, but Gowdy again was adamant.
“The 1999 ARB used the words ‘personally’ and ‘active,’” he said. “That to me does not mean talking about something… Does the State Department still accept these recommendations from the 1999 ARB and is it being done?”
Starr responded by describing a new process of evaluating the security of U.S. diplomatic posts that requires a report directly to the secretary of state.
Gowdy was almost openly skeptical.
“What is it about that recommendation that is so talismanic that it couldn’t have been made prior to the attack on Benghazi …
“What police were we pursuing in Libya that was so great it overcame all the tripwires and all of the risk?”
“Not being here at that time, sir, I cannot answer that question for you,” Starr replied. However, he said, Ambassador Chris Stephens, one of the four Americans who lost his life in the attack, was clear that it was important.
“Mr. Stevens was equally clear that he needed help, he was equally clear that the situation was getting worse in Benghazi,” Gowdy said.
“He was equally clear in asking the people who sent him there to represent us to provide adequate security, and none was forthcoming.”
Gowdy didn’t say it. He didn’t have to.
“The people who sent him there” were named Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
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