By Julian Pecquet - 01/23/13 10:00 AM EST
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify Wednesday that her agency is moving full speed ahead with recommendations to avoid a repeat of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Clinton’s appearances before House and Senate committees are expected to be her last before she hands over the reins to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose nomination hearing is Thursday. She’ll seek to limit the fallout from the deadly attack that tarnished her reputation as a successful head of the State Department.
Republicans have been clamoring for her to testify before she leaves office, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) making her appearance a prerequisite to Kerry’s nomination hearing. They’re expected to hammer the Obama administration for both the Benghazi fiasco and the resurgence of al Qaeda-linked groups in nearby Mali and Algeria, where three Americans were killed last week when militants took over a natural-gas facility.
Lawmakers say they still have plenty of questions. The two parties have new leaders on both the House and Senate Foreign Affairs panels, and Wednesday’s hearings will be their first public performance in their new role.
“The key here is the disconnect between what State Department personnel said were the security needs and the lack of response,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill. “That’s the mystery.”
Royce said the panel also had questions about the decision not to fire anyone for the security failings, despite earlier reports that four people had been reprimanded.
The State Department is promising that Clinton will answer any questions asked of her.
“What the secretary will do tomorrow is be available to Congress, first and foremost, to update them on the implementation of the ARB’s recommendations, but also to answer any questions they have of her,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “As she’ll make clear tomorrow, all of the recommendations are currently being implemented, but there will be plenty of implementation work that needs to be carried forward by her successor.”
Nuland said four people were put on administrative leave because of the report’s recommendations, including Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, who resigned from his current position.
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the new ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News that he didn’t expect any “bombshells” from Wednesday’s hearing regarding what happened at the U.S. mission in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11.
“It’s been four and a half months, and we’ve all gone through myriads of cables, [the Senate] Homeland Security [Committee] issued a report, we’ve all been through the private testimony in classified settings,” he said. “I don’t think there will be bombshells, but I think — especially with what’s happening throughout North Africa right now — I think there will be a lot of questions about just the overall policies of this administration as it relates to AQIM [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb].”
In a statement, he said he’ll press for a “top-to-bottom review of all foreign assistance programs and State Department authorities to ensure that they are being conducted in line with American strategic national interests.”
The Senate hearing will be chaired by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who will take over the gavel if Kerry is confirmed. He told MSNBC that he wanted to focus on Congress’s role in providing funding to ensure diplomatic posts are safe. At current funding levels, just three of the 24 high-risk locations could be brought up to higher safety standards per year.
“It’s also about what we are willing to do in Congress to make sure that these posts in high-risk countries are brought up to standard so we can protect our diplomatic corps as they still engage in robust diplomacy,” Menendez said.
Clinton’s supporters don’t expect her to suffer long-term damage from the hearing. She remains a formidable politician and Democrats’ best shot at keeping the presidency in 2016, and Republicans are likely to hold their fire and avoid the aggressive attacks that derailed Obama’s first choice for secretary of State, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
“It happened on her watch, but you have to put this in a broader context,” said former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “That’s why I think it will be interesting to see where the committee goes in terms of tying Benghazi to what has happened since in Mali and Algeria.”
No matter how Wednesday’s hearing transpires, the Obama administration can expect to face questions on Benghazi for a long time to come.
Several House Oversight Committee members “just came back from a trip where we looked at Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, because what we’re looking at, of course, is the efficiency and effectiveness of all of these decisions of building and securing,” panel Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill. National Security subpanel Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) “has a series of hearings that will be related — some of them lessons learned from Benghazi.”