Clinton defends herself of Benghazi as GOP probes her record

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton firmly defended her record before, during and after the Benghazi attacks as she came face-to-face Thursday with the Republican-led special investigation of the 2012 violence in Libya, hoping to put to rest the worst episode of her tenure as secretary of state and clear an obstacle to her presidential campaign.

Contentious moments included questions and accusations about the Obama administration's shifting early public account of the attacks.

Clinton, the front-runner to win the Democratic nomination, kicked off a long day of questioning with a plea that the United States maintain its global leadership role despite the threat posed to U.S. diplomats. She hailed the efforts of the four Americans who died in the attacks, including the first ambassador in more than three decades, but told the House Benghazi Committee that the deadly events already have been exhaustively scrutinized.

READ MORE SPECIAL COVERAGE ON BENGHAZI: Why you keep seeing Hillary Clinton and Benghazi together

Republicans pressed for answers on her record in the lead-up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and a nearby CIA compound, and how engaged she was on the deteriorating security situation in eastern Libya. The atmosphere remained mostly civil until a fiery back-and-forth with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who accused Clinton of deliberately misleading the public by linking the violence to an Internet video insulting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

Clinton, stone-faced for much of the hearing, smiled in bemusement as Jordan cut her off from answering. Eventually given the chance to comment, she said only that "some" people had wanted to justify the attack based on that video and that she rejected that justification. The argument went to the origins of the disagreement over Benghazi and how President Barack Obama and his top aides represented the attack in the final weeks of his re-election campaign.

"There were probably a number of different motivations" for the attack, Clinton said, describing a time when competing strands of intelligence were being received and no clear picture had yet emerged. Speaking directly to Jordan, she said: "The insinuations that you are making do a great disservice."

"I'm sorry that it doesn't fit your narrative. I can only tell you what the facts were," Clinton said.

See photos of Clinton testifying on Thursday:

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Hillary Clinton testifies on Benghazi 10/21
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Clinton defends herself of Benghazi as GOP probes her record
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, to testify before the House Benghazi Committee. After months of buildup, Hillary Rodham Clinton finally takes center stage as the star witness in the Republican-led investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton waits to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, walks past members of the media as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, to testify before the House Benghazi Committee. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arrives to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, before the House Select Committee on Banghazi. After months of buildup, Hillary Rodham Clinton finally takes center stage as the star witness in the Republican-led investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton arrives to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22: Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes her seat prior to testifying before the House Select Committee on Benghazi October 22, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing to continue its investigation on the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on the evening of September 11, 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton waits to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks toward the dais as she settles into her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, prior to testifying before the House Benghazi Committee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton arrives to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, prior to testifying before the House Benghazi Committee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Clinton said that she accepted responsibility for a lethal 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya and that she sought afterward to improve security for State Department workers abroad, as the House Benghazi panel investigating the incident began a hearing that may prove a turning point for her presidential campaign. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Beyond that exchange, however, there were no gaffes for Clinton and few fiery interactions. She never raised her voice as she did at a Senate hearing on Benghazi in January 2013, when she delivered the oft-replayed sound bite: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

Instead, it was the panel's members who engaged among themselves in the nastiest fight as the initial, almost 3½ -hour session ended, with Clinton merely observing. Democrats pressed for the release of the full transcript of a trusted Clinton adviser's private testimony, drawing the Republican chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, into an angry debate. Gowdy led off an afternoon session an hour later.

SEE MORE: Breaking down Benghazi: Here's what happened at the embassy

The hearing came at a moment of political strength for Clinton. On Wednesday, a potential rival for the Democratic nomination, Vice President Joe Biden, announced he would not join the race. Clinton also is riding the momentum of a solid debate performance last week. Gowdy says he won't call Clinton to appear a second time.

Learn more about what happened in Benghazi:

Breaking Down Benghazi: Here's What Happened at the Embassy

But Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor from South Carolina, began by laying out a series of questions that he said remained unanswered: Why was the U.S. in Libya, why were security requests denied, why was the military not ready to respond quickly on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and why did the Obama administration change its story about the nature of the attacks in the weeks afterward?

"These questions linger because previous investigations were not thorough," Gowdy said.

Clinton addressed some of these matters early on. She stressed a need for diplomats to advance U.S. interests in the world, even in dangerous places, and said perfect security can never be achieved. She noted the various attacks on U.S. diplomatic and military installations overseas during the presidencies of her husband, Bill Clinton, in the 1990s and Ronald Reagan a decade earlier.


SEE MORE: Benghazi is just the latest long, pricey government probe

"In Beirut we lost far more Americans, not once but twice within a year," she said of the 1983 attacks in Lebanon that killed more than 250 Americans and dozens of others. "There was no partisan effort. People rose above politics. A Democratic Congress worked with a Republican administration to say, 'What do we need to learn?'"

Wearing a dark suit, Clinton appeared somber before the panel, holding her chin in her hand while Gowdy interrogated her. She nodded occasionally, such as when the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, described the entire probe as a partisan campaign replete with implausible conspiracy theories.

The Republican criticism has included contentions by some lawmakers that Clinton personally denied security requests and ordered the U.S. military to "stand down" during the attacks, or that her agency was engaged in an elaborate gun-running scheme in eastern Libya. None of these were substantiated in the independent Accountability Review Board investigation ordered by Clinton after the deadly incident, and seven subsequent congressional investigations.



Gowdy is engaged in his own balancing act, portraying the panel as focused on the facts after comments by fellow Republicans describing the inquiry as an effort designed to hurt Clinton's presidential bid. Democrats have pounced on the remarks, and pointed out that the probe has now cost U.S. taxpayers more than $4.5 million and, after 17 months, has lasted longer than the 1970s Watergate investigation.

The hearing was expected to last the whole day, with breaks. Clinton was certain to face questions about her use of a private email account and server while serving as Obama's chief diplomat, another issue that has beset her campaign.

While Clinton testified, FBI Director James Comey was speaking to lawmakers elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a reminder that she may face more examinations in the months ahead. The FBI has said little thus far about its investigation of the private email server.

See photos from the Benghazi testimony so far:
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Benghazi testimonies so far
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Clinton defends herself of Benghazi as GOP probes her record
FILE - This Jan. 23, 2013, file photo shows Secretary of State Hillary Rodham as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. The testimony of nine military officers severely undermines claims by Republican lawmakers that a âstand-down orderâ held back military assets who could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed in the attack. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Huma Abedin, left, a longtime aid to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, returns to a hearing room after a break in testimony at a closed-door hearing of the House Benghazi Committee, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Reporters hold out recorders as House Benghazi Committee member Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, during a break in testimony during a closed-door hearing of the House Benghazi Committee. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The House Benghazi Committee's ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., arrives to speak with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, after testimony by Bryan Pagliano, a former State Department employee who helped set up and maintain a private email server used by Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., talks with the news media before walking to a hearing room to hear testimony from Jake Sullivan, former Hillary Clinton aide during her tenure as Secretary of State, before a House panel on the Benghazi investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. A day after questioning a former top aide to presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton behind closed doors, the House committee investigating the deadly Benghazi attacks is taking testimony from another member of Clinton's inner circle in closed session. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Huma Abedin, center, a longtime aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, returns to a hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, after a break in hearing testimony during a closed-door hearing of the House Benghazi Committee. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., left, listen to witness testimony as the panel holds its first public hearing to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where a violent mob killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, left, listen to testimony from State Department officials after an independent review panel said this week that serious bureaucratic mismanagement was responsible for inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who is in charge of management, and State Department Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who is in charge of policy, appeared in place of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who had been scheduled to testify but canceled after fainting and sustaining a concussion last week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current Vice-Chairman of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, testifies during a House Oversight Committee hearing entitled 'Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions,' in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is continuing to lead the GOP investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) listens to testimony during a House Oversight Committee hearing entitled 'Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions,' in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is continuing to lead the GOP investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. listens to testimony from witnesses Mark Thompson, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya; Eric Nordstrom, Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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