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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

 10:57 AM 

Johnson, Clinton have testy exchange over Benghazi

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, had a testy exchange with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today as he pressed her on the administration’s initial explanation that attacks on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi sprang out of a protest.

Johnson asked Clinton as she testified before the Foreign Relations Committee if she spoke with any of the evacuees from the embassy or if anyone from the State Department had talked with them immediately after the attack.

Clinton said she has talked to one of them and State Department officials waited to speak with others until after an investigation had begun into what happened and the FBI interviewed them. She said the immediate concern in the aftermath of the attack was giving medical attention to those injured.

Johnson continued to press her on why the State Department did not do more to find out what happened, saying former Ambassador Susan Rice went on talk shows in the days after the attack to say it stemmed from spontaneous protests and were not terrorist attacks. The administration later classified it as a terrorist attack.

“The point I’m making is a very simple phone call to these individuals, I think, would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this,” he said, accusing Rice of “purposefully misleading the American public.”

Clinton said there was no intention to mislead and the State Department did not feel it was appropriate to speak with the evacuees until after the FBI had interviewed them and did not want to interfere with the investigation.

“I realize that’s a good excuse,” Johnson said, interrupting her.

“No, it’s the fact,” Clinton shot back.

Johnson repeated the charge that Americans were mislead and insisted the public could have known that right away if the State Department had interviewed witnesses right away.

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. 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?” Clinton said, her voice rising. “What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

Watch the exchange.

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