Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took a swing at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday during hearings over the September 11, 2012, attack on the American consulate in Benghazi which killed four people including the American ambassador to Libya.
While Paul likely thought this was his moment to shine, he ended up falling on his own sword.
Rand’s committee was ostensibly questioning Clinton – the sole witness in the back-to-back hearings in the House and Senate regarding the incident – to discuss mistakes made in security preparations at the consulate and better plan for future threats. But the libertarian senator was more interested in taking political swings at Clinton in preparation for his widely rumored 2016 presidential run, a race which Clinton is also widely rumored to have plans for.
Clinton is accused of lax leadership and a poor strategic vision, as well as allegations that the Obama administration deliberately mischaracterized the attack (which involved 120-150 heavily armed gunmen) as resulting from a protest rather than a coordinated security breach.
Paul was not impressed with Clinton’s testimony. He made a “terrifying counterfactual,” saying that if he was president that he would have fired Clinton for not individually reading each cable from Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in the attack.
“… had I been President at the time and I found that you did not read the cables [from Benghazi] I would have relieved you of your duties,” Paul said, in a tone Salon found less intimidating than funny.
As Vanity Fair joked, “if Rand Paul had been president at any time, a lot of people would have removed themselves from their posts.”
Paul insisted that the embassy in Benghazi should have been under full military guard, like “a war zone,” but neglected to mention that in 2011 he had proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by approximately 71%.
He grandstandingly accepted Clinton’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the attack, saying that “I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that.”
Apparently a decade of war in the Middle East, and many terrorist attacks that caused far greater destruction (such as the recent Algerian hostage crisis which resulted in 39 confirmed deaths) are not relevant to this discussion.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) rebuked Paul, saying, “If some people on this committee want to call this tragedy the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of the 4,000 plus Americans lost in the War in Iraq under false pretenses.”
Clinton had an apt response on this topic as well: “Taking responsibility meant moving quickly in those first uncertain hours and days to respond to the immediate crisis and further protect our people and posts in high-threat areas across the region and the world,” she said. “It meant launching an independent investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi and to recommend steps for improvement. And it meant intensifying our efforts to combat terrorism and support emerging democracies in North Africa and beyond.”
Clinton said she had moved quickly to implement all security and policy recommendations made to her by the review board, in an effort to ensure that the incident would not be repeated.
Meanwhile, in his attempt to look better than Clinton, Paul apparently also misunderstood the State Department’s internal Accountability Review Board investigation; accusing Clinton of a “failure of leadership” for not reviewing Stevens’ cables. Clinton made certain the audience understood that “I am the Secretary of State. And the [review board] made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the Assistant Secretary level and below.
GOP Senator and Tea Party favorite Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) took his own shot at Clinton, parroting a conspiracy theory that the White House had attempted to cover up the Benghazi attack.
Clinton insisted that the Obama administration had not intentionally misled anyone.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. The fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.”
The GOP mobilized itself big time to take down Clinton, but ended up making itself look like a bunch of raving, viciously politically motivated jerks, while Clinton came across as statesmanlike and controlled. There’s a way to run a hit job on someone in a hearing, and this isn’t it – but perhaps Republicans had a tough job coming up with credible accusations given the dearth of evidence implicating Clinton or any other cabinet-level officials of malfeasance or incompetence.
And that’s just the Senate.