They blamed her mismanagement for the death of Americans in Benghazi, Libya. They accused her of a cover-up. Some even suggested that she faked an illness to avoid testifying about the attack.
On Wednesday, Hillary Rodham Clinton finally had her chance to respond to critics, and the outgoing secretary of state served up a potent brew of righteous outrage.
She began her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with restraint, and even remorse. She choked up as she described receiving flag-draped caskets at Andrews Air Force Base and hugging relatives of those killed.
But her anger boiled over when rookie Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) demanded to know why she and her aides didn’t immediately call those evacuated from Benghazi to find out whether a protest had preceded the attack.
Clinton replied that she didn’t want to interfere with the FBI’s investigation — which is almost certainly what Republicans would have accused her of doing.
“That’s a good excuse,” Johnson said, scornfully.
“Well, no, it’s a fact,” Clinton retorted, growing irritated. Waving her index finger, she pointed out that much of what happened in Libya on Sept. 11 remains unknown.
“No, no, no, no,” Johnson rejoined. “We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that, an assault . . . and the American people could have known that within days.”
Clinton raised her voice. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she shouted at the lawmaker. Waving her arms and then pounding the witness table with her fist, she continued: “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?”
Johnson stopped interrupting as Clinton continued. “It is, from my perspective, less important today looking backward as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice,” she said.
Johnson didn’t attempt a rebuttal. “Okay, thank you, Madam Secretary.”