Washington (CNN)Hillary Clinton's appearance Thursday before the Select Committee on Benghazi is certain to provide political drama as Republican lawmakers grill the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential front-runner over her handling of the September 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks. But the committee is also hoping to get answers to some key questions surrounding the violence that left four Americans dead and the security breaches that failed to keep them safe.
5 things the Benghazi committee wants to know
In addition to U.S. intelligence warnings about the deteriorating situation in eastern Libya, there were several attacks on Western interests in Benghazi, including on the U.S. mission itself in the months leading up to the attacks. After a rocket-propelled grenade hit a convoy carrying the British ambassador, the United Kingdom closed its consulate in Benghazi on June 11, 2012.
Yet despite the warning signs, the U.S. facility remained open. Clinton has often said U.S. diplomatic engagement is important, even in dangerous places, but committee staff say they hope to hear from Clinton what the "vital national interests" in Benghazi were that outweighed the obvious risks.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and a number of State Department personnel serving in Benghazi made repeated requests for more security, personnel and equipment in the months leading up to the attacks. These were denied. Clinton said she was unaware of any requests for additional security and entrusted her aides at the State Department who dealt with security issues to handle such matters.
Given that several of Clinton's emails show she and her aides felt her leadership on Libya was a legacy-building issue, members of the committee want to know why she was not notified about the deteriorating situation in Benghazi and the requests for more robust security.
After the initial attack on the Benghazi diplomatic outpost on September 11 ended, militants then moved to the nearby CIA annex, targeting it twice with mortar fire, which killed CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The U.S. military did not have the resources in position to help counter the attack. Military leaders did send surveillance drones to relay information to security personnel on the ground and moved Special Forces and Marines toward Libya, but the Americans were evacuated before this backup arrived.
Committee members want to ask Clinton's situational awareness of available response resources, and whether that was discussed with her. They also want to know whether Clinton tracked the progress of any military response and what, if anything, arrived when it was expected.
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy has said he is interested in the U.S. military's preparedness to respond to any potential attack in the troubled region. But some other members have repeated the now-debunked claim that that a "stand down" order by Clinton kept help from arriving from Tripoli. According to transcripts of interviews with military officers in Tripoli and the United States, a conclusion was made -- before the second attack on the annex -- that a four-member team of military personnel was better off remaining in Tripoli to wait for personnel being evacuated from Benghazi. Several congressional investigations have, however, faulted the military for not having had resources in position to anticipate and counter an attack.
The diplomatic outpost in Benghazi was not a full-blown consulate but a "temporary mission," and as such, it did not have to meet the security standards of full-time offices and was not eligible for the same funding as embassies and consulates. By all accounts, however, the security at the facility did not meet State Department guidelines for U.S. facilities of any level.
The independent Accountability Review Board, commissioned by Clinton, found that security at the compound was "at variance" with perimeter and interior security standards and "severely under-resourced with regard to certain needed security equipment," despite some security upgrades earlier in the year. The report found that the Benghazi facility's uncertain future after 2012 and its status as a temporary, residential facility "made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult, and left responsibility to meet security standards to the working-level in the field, with very limited resources."
Before his death, Stevens advocated upgrading the mission to consulate status, something Clinton supported. The committee wants to know why the facility was not converted to a consulate earlier, which would have afforded it adequate resources for security.
The Accountability Review Board recommendations, 24 of which were unclassified, called for the State Department to better defend U.S. posts abroad, especially those like Benghazi that were deemed high risk. The proposals included increasing the number of Marine guards at diplomatic missions, relying less on local security forces for protection at U.S. facilities and increasing the hiring and deployment of highly trained Diplomatic Security agents at high-risk posts. Clinton accepted every one of the recommendations and had begun implementing many before leaving office. To date, State Department officials say all but three of them are well on their way to being implemented.