Published November 20, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated on Tuesday her statement taking sole responsibility for security at all of America's diplomatic missions, an attempt to clear a political obstacle for her boss, President Barack Obama ahead of his second debate with Republican Mitt Romney.
"I take responsibility," Clinton said in a written statement. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world (at) 275 posts."
She would not answer questions on her statement.
With only weeks before the presidential election, outrage has crystallized around Vice President Joe Biden's claim in last week's debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan that "we weren't told" about requests for extra security at the consulate where assailants killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Congressional hearings revealed that the State Department was aware of, and rejected, several requests for increased security in Benghazi. Spokesmen for both the State Department and the White House took pains Friday to make clear that Biden's "we" referred to the White House, where such requests would not go.
Clinton backed up Biden's assertion. "The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals," she said Monday.
Three separate investigations into the attack are being conducted: an FBI probe into the deaths of the four Americans, an independent inquiry by a panel appointed by Clinton and the congressional hearings.
Initial reports attributed the cause of the violent attack as one of a number of spontaneous demonstrations in several Muslim countries over a film produced in the U.S. that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, insisted on a number of talk shows in the days after the event that the investigation up to that point showed no indication of a planned attack. Within days, the White House reversed its position, saying new findings indicated the attack was intentional and coordinated.
"Everyone who spoke tried to give the information they had," Clinton's statement said. "As time has gone on, the information has changed, we've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens."
She added, "What I want to avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game."
Republican senators said Clinton's claim was "a laudable gesture," but they put the responsibility for the Benghazi attack and what they called "an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi" squarely on Obama and his national security team.
"I think it's very laudable that she should throw herself under the bus," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday. "But first of all, responsibility for American security doesn't lie with the secretary of state. It lies with the president of the United States.
"It's either willful deception or a degree of incompetence and failure to understand fundamental facts on the ground...either one of those is obviously totally unacceptable," he told FOX News.
Obama ignored reporters' questions about Clinton's statement as he left Williamsburg, Va., for Tuesday night's debate with Romney in New York.
Clinton agreed with the need to keep the Benghazi tragedy out of politics.
"I know that we're very close to an election," Clinton told CNN. "I want to just take a step back here and say from my own experience, we are at our best as Americans when we pull together. I've done that with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents."