Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday angrily defended her handling of the September 11 attack on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi and denied any effort to mislead people.
The attack by armed militants that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans threatens to stain Clinton's legacy as secretary of state. It also may dent any hopes that Clinton, who mounted an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, may run for the White House again in 2016.
By turns emotional and fierce, Clinton choked up as she spoke of comforting the victims' families and grew angry when a Republican senator accused the Obama administration of misleading the country over whether the Benghazi incident stemmed from a protest. "With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans," Clinton shot back as she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an appearance delayed more than a month because of her ill health.
"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?" she said, making chopping motions with her hands for emphasis. Clinton cast the incident as part of a long history of such violence as well as the result of regional instability since the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011.
Clinton is expected to step down in the coming days once her designated successor, Senator John Kerry, is confirmed by the US Senate. Republicans harshly criticised her, and president Barack Obama's administration more generally, with one saying the Benghazi attack and the US response displayed "woeful unpreparedness" for the events sweeping the region and another saying Clinton should have been fired.
Militants attacked and overwhelmed the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 in a sustained assault. An official US inquiry concluded that the State Department was completely unprepared to deal with the attack, citing "leadership and management" deficiencies, poor coordination and unclear lines of authority in Washington.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn)