Interview With Elise Labott of CNN
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for joining CNN. I want to talk a little bit about the Benghazi attack. September 11th, the evening of this horrible day you get a call that the consulate in Benghazi was attacked, and the Ambassador has died. What goes through your head at that moment?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, this was a many-hour ordeal that we were all involved in, and I was deeply concerned, as you would obviously assume, to hear about an attack, an attack that –
QUESTION: On 9/11.
SECRETARY CLINTON: On 9/11, an attack that was just overwhelming, the many-armed men, numbers not clear, not only at our post but at our annex, and then we couldn’t find Ambassador Stevens, and we were trying desperately to figure out what had happened to him and to Sean Smith and the others who were there. So it was an intense, long ordeal for everybody at the State Department and in Libya.
QUESTION: Now, I know the investigation is going to play itself out –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: -- but in the short term, the State Department officials and Diplomatic Security admit that requests for security were denied because they said that it was adequate based on the threat level. Did you get bad intelligence about the threat level, or was this a bad security decision?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Elise, one of the things we’re going to explore in the Accountability Review that I have ordered is exactly what happened and what can we do to make sure that we learn lessons from it. Nobody wants to get to the bottom of this more than I do. I knew Chris Stevens. I’ve had a chance to meet the families of the other three men who we lost. I take this very personally. So we’re going to get to the bottom of it, and then we’re going to do everything we can to work to prevent it from happening again, and then we’re going to bring whoever did this to us to justice.
QUESTION: I understand, but eastern Libya, known to be a hub for extremist groups, on 9/11; the Ambassador clearly didn’t have enough security.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to reach any conclusions. Obviously, what happened that night was unprecedented. The waves of armed attackers that went on for hours, this was a long attack.
QUESTION: Well, do you think you got wrong intelligence then?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not going to get into the blame game either about what we don’t fully yet know from our own investigation. What I think is important is to make it clear that we were attacked. And what does that mean? That means that we have to do everything we possibly can to keep our people safe. At the same time, we have to continue to be out in the world. That’s a very difficult balance to make, and I’m trying to make that balance all the time, because we can’t retreat. We have to continue to lead. We have to be engaged. We can’t hang out behind walls. Chris Stevens understood that better than anybody. He believed in what he was doing in Libya, and we want to do this right in his honor and the honor of all the men who were lost.
QUESTION: You say you don’t want to play the blame game, but certainly there’s a blame game going on in Washington. In fact, during the presidential debate, Vice President Biden said, “We didn’t know.” White House officials calling around saying, “Hey, this is a State Department function.” Are they throwing you under the bus?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, of course not. Look, I take responsibility. I’m in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The President and the Vice President certainly wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They’re the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision.
QUESTION: Intelligence community initially called it a protest. State Department never did. You never did. The story has changed now. And as you know, Republicans are charging that this was a cover-up. Was it a rush to judgment, or was it bad intelligence as Vice President Biden suggests?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Elise, I take a very different view of this. I have now for 20 years been very much in the administration decision-making first with my husband; then after 9/11 working with President Bush; now, of course, in President Obama’s cabinet. In the wake of an attack like this in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion, and I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke –
QUESTION: Bad intelligence it seems, though.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Everyone who spoke tried to give the information they had. As time has gone one, the information has changed, we’ve gotten more detail, but that’s not surprising. That always happens. And what I want to avoid is some kind of political "gotcha" or blame game going on, because that does a disservice to the thousands and thousands of Americans not only in the State Department and USAID, but in the military, who serve around the world. Everyone wants to make sure they are as safe as possible, but they are doing the job that they were sent out to do.
QUESTION: Well, Ambassador Stevens’ father this week said his death is being politicized. Democrats are calling it a witch hunt. Is that what’s happening here?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to get into the political back-and-forth. I know that we’re very close to an election. I want just to 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 it with –
QUESTION: Are you saying we’re not doing that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: -- Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. I’ve seen it happen where people say, “Look, first and foremost we’re Americans.” We’ve lost four brave men, dozens more had to fight for their lives over a very long battle. They had to get evacuated because of the dangers that they were facing.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, we have an election coming up. Rationale is that this is to go against President Obama. But some people think it’s to stop Hillary Clinton from making any gains for 2016.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is just so far from anything that anybody should be thinking about.
QUESTION: They still see you as a threat, Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can’t speak to that. The only threats I’m worried about are the threats to my men and women on the ground every day as we speak. It’s what I’m obsessed with. It’s what we’ve worked so hard to evaluate, and of course we’re part of a team. We’re a team with the – with DOD, we’re a team with the intelligence community, we’re a team with the White House, and other assets of the government.
QUESTION: What about the funding now? I mean, you’ve talked –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re also a team with the Congress, too.
QUESTION: You’ve talked about that a lot that that’s an issue.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s important for us to work closely with the Congress. I have every reason to believe that the leadership of the Congress cares as much as anybody about protecting our men and women, and we’ll have time to talk about what we need and how we can best deploy financial assistance.
QUESTION: You’re here in Peru talking about women’s issues, women as part of the economy. In the United States, you have 50 percent of women in the workforce, they’re not getting all the tools they need, and this is becoming an issue in this election.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is important that we do everything we can to open the doors of opportunity for everyone. And the biggest group that is not fully participating around the world are women. And so, as you know, this has been a point I’ve made repeatedly, that if we tear down the barriers to women’s full participation in the economy, whether it’s in the United States or Peru or Japan, it will be an opportunity for those economies to grow. Actually, the gross domestic product will increase.
I’m also here to see the new President. We have a lot of important relationships with him and his government on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, the problems that we’re dealing with in this very complex world of ours today.
QUESTION: Going to watch the debate?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am. I am. We’re going to try to get home in time to be sure that I see every minute of it.
QUESTION: You’ve debated President Obama. You’ve watched many debates. What does he need to do in this debate?
SECRETARY CLINTON: He just needs to be himself and answer the questions and get out there and tell people – not just those in the audience, but in our country – what he has done and what he will do. I think that this is a consequential election for both domestic and international reasons, and although I am out of politics, I am still an American and care deeply about what happens in my country.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for joining us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks very much, Elise.
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