Hillary Clinton to testify on Benghazi

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gestures during a press conference after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels Dec. 5, 2012. AP Photo

Amid ongoing questions about the September violence in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Capitol Hill next week to testify on the matter, appearing before both House and Senate committees to answer questions about the sequence of events that led up to the attacks, and how the State Department hopes to prevent similar incidents in the future.

"We ask our diplomats and development personnel to operate in some of the most dangerous places on the planet," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where she'll appear next Thursday morning. "We owe it to them, and we owe it to the memory of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his three fellow Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi to get past the politics and focus on the substance of what happened and what it tells us about diplomatic security going forward."

Later in the day, Clinton will testify to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the findings of a State Department review of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.

To date, Clinton has largely stayed above the fray of controversy that has dogged the Obama administration surrounding the attacks, even while UN ambassador Susan Rice, a top contender to take her place as Secretary of State, has become mired in criticism.

On September 16, five days after the attacks, Rice appeared on a handful of Sunday morning political talk shows to discuss the violence, which caused the death U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Rice's comments on those shows were guided by CIA talking points that, according to a U.S. intelligence official, "were written, upon request, so members of Congress and senior officials could say something preliminary and unclassified about the attacks," and reflected the possibility that the attacks were a result of spontaneous protests spurred by an anti-Muslim video.

Rice ultimately clarified that there had been "no protest or demonstration in Benghazi" and that "the intelligence assessment has evolved" since her Sept. 16 comments. A spokesperson for the Director of National Intelligence told CBS News that "the intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," and that Rice would have been privy to that characterization -- which was shared at a classified level -- since she's a member of the president's cabinet. But specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" had been edited out of the talking points Rice received ahead of her television appearances.

In the aftermath of the confusion, a handful of Republicans have gone after Rice for how she characterized the sequence of events in Libya, and have suggested her alleged errors in judgment disqualify her to be Secretary of State. Others have wondered why she was speaking on behalf of the White House about the Benghazi situation in the first place, when she likely would not have known the intricacies of the case.

The White House, however, has vehemently defended Rice, and says the administration is focusing its efforts on finding out what actually happened in Benghazi -- not on the political fallout surrounding it.

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