WASHINGTON— Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her decision-making during the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, also telling Congressional investigators that neither Washington nor U.S. military officials denied requests for support from personnel there.
Clinton's remarks on October 22 came during her highly anticipated testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is investigating the circumstances around the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Many Democrats have accused the Republican-led committee of conducting a witch hunt, seeking to damage Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the U.S. presidential campaign. Those accusations have been furthered by comments from a top House Republican leader who said candidly that the investigation was aimed at hurting Clinton politically.
Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Clinton of responsibility for what happened in Benghazi and what they say is a lack of accountability on her part.
Recent revelations that Clinton used a personal computer server to send and receive emails when she was secretary of state have only fueled Republican suspicions.
Clinton did not overtly criticize the panel in her opening comments, as she praised U.S. personnel serving overseas in risky circumstances.
"We need leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology," she told the panel. "We should debate on the basis of fact, not fear. We should resist denigrating the patriotism or loyalty of those with whom we disagree."
The panel's Republican chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, opened the hearing in remarks that sounded at times like a civics lecture and at others like a justification for the committee's work.
"Madame Secretary, I understand some people -- frankly in both parties -- have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not," Gowdy said.
"The investigation is about four people representing our country. It is about what happened before, during and after the attacks that killed them," he said. "It is about what this country owes to the people who risk their lives. And it is about the fundamental obligation of the government to tell the truth to the people it purports to represent."
The top Democrat on the committee, Representative Elijah Cummings, used his opening remarks to criticize the investigation, which he called a "taxpayer-funded fishing expedition."
"What is impossible is for any reasonable person to deny is that Republicans are squandering hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in an abusive effort to derail Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign," he said.
In the wake of the attack, the State Department conducted its own internal investigation that showed glaring flaws and faulted department officials for providing "grossly" insufficient security in Benghazi, despite upgrade requests in Libya.
Seven other House and Senate panels have also investigated the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In June 2014, U.S. special operations forces and the FBI captured a militia leader named Ahmed Abu Khattala, in Libya, for his alleged involvement in the attacks.
Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, became secretary of state under President Barack Obama after losing to Obama in the 2008 election. In most polls, she is leading her Democratic challengers in the race to represent the party in the November 2016 presidential election.