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Benghazi outrage muted at Libya nominee's hearing

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 5:44 AM EDT, Wed May 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Few members of a Senate committee question Libya ambassador nominee
  • Deborah Jones is a respected career diplomat who has served in Iraq and Syria
  • Proceeding for Jones a prelude to a House hearing on the attack on Wednesday

Washington (CNN) -- Obama administration handling of the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, sparked outrage from certain Republicans, but none of that was evdident at the confirmation hearing of his successor.

Only three members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee attended the hearing on Tuesday for Ambassador Deborah Jones, President Barack Obama's nominee to take over in Tripoli. She mentioned the armed assault last September 11 in her opening statement and in answering questions.

Jones, a career diplomat, said stopping the flow of weapons through Libya's porous border will "enable the defeat of volatile and deadly rogue militias, and prevent a repeat of the tragedy in Benghazi."

She said that she "will work closely with the Libyan government to see that justice realized" in the Benghazi attacks.

In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash afterward, Jones said she was pleased with the substance of the meeting and that her focus was on looking forward in Libya, not looking back.

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Benghazi: Terrorist attack from the start

"I was pleased that there was focus on the substance of Libya we got a lot of work to do there," Jones said. "There are a lot of serious issues there that require having an ambassador on the ground. And I think that this town ... the politics is something completely different. I'm really focused not on the forensics but on the future."

Tuesday's muted atmosphere was a prelude to Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing on the Benghazi attack.

Panel Chairman Darrell Issa has released testimony from three whistle blowers who plan to discuss what they feel were security failures at the compound during the attack.

The testimony of Greg Hicks, a former top U.S. diplomat in Libya, has been the focus of Issa's hearing. Hicks is expected to discuss how the American military could have done more to protect those in Benghazi.

Democrats on the House committee charge the hearing is a charade.

The committee's senior Democrat, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, said members of Congress have an obligation to actually investigate claims before coming to conclusions and making public accusations.

"Unfortunately, House Republicans have taken the opposite approach," he said.

Despite being nine months removed from the terrorist attack, the tragedy has maintained a steady drumbeat on Capitol Hill, particularly with Republicans, who claim to not yet know the full story of what transpired.

But only three of the 18 members of the Foreign Relations Committee attended Tuesday's hearing for Jones -- Sens Bob Corker and fellow Republican John McCain and Democrat Bob Menendez.

Senators paid tribute to those lost in Benghazi.

"We can never forget Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other American public servants, Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, and Glen Doherty, who tragically lost their lives on the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September," Menendez said.

Jones said she would take responsibility for personnel security if confirmed as ambassador.

"On security -- and again this is something that is, well, as we know it is deadly serious for us," she said. "It is the role of the ambassador -- the ambassador is the principal security officer at post. And it is the ambassador who has to decide whether to allow people to travel here or there, whether to ask for additional assets, whether to insist on additional assets."

She added that if you don't get the answers you need then "pick up the phone and you speak to the people" responsible for that information.

"That is what I intend to do. That is what I have always done," she said.

Jones is a respected career diplomat who has held consulate and embassy posts in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and Argentina. Most recently, she served as U.S. ambassador to Kuwait from 2008 to 2011.

There has been a great deal of tension between Democrats and Republicans on Benghazi, partly stemming from televised comments after the attack by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said it was a spontaneous act that grew out of a demonstration over an anti-Islam film made in the United States.

Later, the administration called the Benghazi matter a terror attack. Rice and other officials said that her comments explaining the incident publicly relied on official talking points. Still, the initial statements and the resulting controversy cost her a likely nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Certain GOP members also sharply questioned Clinton over the administration's explanation of events and the state of security at the compound prior to the attack.

Clinton said she took responsibility for the deaths, stating that as secretary of state, she was "in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world."

In January 2013, Clinton testified for more than five hours before the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees. In her testimony, she acknowledged a "systematic breakdown" on Benghazi and said her department was taking additional steps to increase U.S. security at diplomatic posts.

Critics have questioned the validity of continued congressional scrutiny, especially Democrats who say Republicans are only interested in discrediting the administration and hurting Clinton's chances of running for president in 2016.

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