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Hillary Clinton reflects on 'long day' after 11-hour Benghazi attacks grilling

Published 23/10/2015

Hillary Clinton feels the pressure in the final hour of her marathon session on Capitol Hill (AP)
Hillary Clinton feels the pressure in the final hour of her marathon session on Capitol Hill (AP)

Hillary Clinton is joking about her "long day", the morning after her 11-hour grilling by House Republicans.

Mrs Clinton says she tried to "rise above partisanships and reach for statesmanship" in her testimony before a Republican-led congressional committee investigating her handling of the 2012 fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

She also notes that she has "recovered her voice" after the long day of testimony.

She is addressing Democratic women at a party breakfast in Washington, where she was greeted with a loud wave of cheers.

Later on Friday, she will travel to Virginia for a rally with long-time ally Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Mrs Clinton firmly defended her record under scrutiny from the committee while seeking to avoid any mishap that might damage her presidential campaign.

Democrats accused the Republicans of using the investigation as a ploy to derail Mrs Clinton's White House bid, noting that it was the eighth congressional investigation into the attacks.

But the hearing came at a moment of political strength for Mrs Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. On Wednesday, a potential rival for the nomination, US vice president Joe Biden, announced he would not join the race and Mrs Clinton is also riding the momentum of a solid debate performance last week.

Pressed about events before and after the deaths of four Americans, Mrs Clinton had confrontational exchanges with several Republicans but also fielded supportive queries from Democrats.

The hearing ended at 9pm US time, some 11 hours after it began. But five hours into the hearing, Republicans had yet to ask Mrs Clinton a single question about the night of September 11 2012, itself.

The House of Representatives committee chairman Trey Gowdy portrayed the panel as focused on the facts after comments by fellow Republicans describing it as an effort designed to hurt Mrs Clinton's presidential bid.

Democrats have pounced on those earlier remarks and have pointed out that the probe has now cost US taxpayers more than 4.5 million dollars (£3 million) and, after 17 months, has lasted longer than the 1970s Watergate investigation.

Mr Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, said the Republicans' efforts were not a prosecution.

Contradicting him, Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, told Mrs Clinton: "The purpose of this committee is to prosecute you."

In one tense moment, Republican Jim Jordan accused Mrs Clinton of deliberately misleading the public by linking the Benghazi violence at first to an internet video insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Mrs Clinton, stone-faced for much of the hearing, smiled in bemusement as Mr Jordan cut her off from answering. Eventually given the chance to comment, she said only that "some" people had wanted to use the video to justify the attack that killed US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans, and that she rejected that justification.

The argument went to the origins of the disagreement over Benghazi and how US President Barack Obama and his top aides represented the attack in the final weeks of his re-election campaign.

And it reflected some of the raw emotion the deadly violence continues to provoke, something Mrs Clinton will have to face over the next year of her White House bid even if the Republican-led special investigation loses steam.

For Mrs Clinton, the political theatre offered opportunity and potential pitfalls. It gave her a high-profile platform to show her self-control and command of foreign policy, but also left her vulnerable to claims that she helped politicise the Benghazi tragedy.

"There were probably a number of different motivations" for the attack, she said, describing a time when competing strands of intelligence were being received and no clear picture had yet emerged.

Speaking directly to Mr Jordan, she said: "The insinuations that you are making do a great disservice" to the diplomats and others involved.

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

There were no gaffes for Mrs Clinton and - beyond that exchange- few heated interactions. She never raised her voice as she had at a Senate hearing on Benghazi in January 2013, when she shouted: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

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