WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged Wednesday that nobody had lied about last year’s attack on a US mission in Libya that killed four Americans, and urged US lawmakers to move on.
The former senator found the tables turned as he was grilled about the hot-button issue by his old congressional colleagues during his defense of the State Department’s 2014 budget request before the House foreign affairs committee.
“I don’t think anybody lied to anybody,” Kerry insisted about the Benghazi attack that dominated the 2012 presidential race, also refusing to investigate statements made about it by US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
Republicans have alleged that President Barack Obama’s administration sought to cover up details of the attack in the eastern Libyan town of Benghazi, including that it was linked to terror groups.
Ambassador Chris Stevens was among four Americans killed on September 11 when Al-Qaeda-linked militants overran the US mission. An internal State Department probe initiated by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton found security was “grossly inadequate” at the mission, and at a nearby CIA annex.
Amid persistent questioning from congressmen fuming that they still had not been given all the information they sought about the attack, Kerry vowed to appoint someone within the next 24 hours to work with them.
“Let’s figure out what it is that’s missing, if it’s legitimate or isn’t,” he told lawmakers. “Let’s find out exactly, together, what happened, because… we got a lot more important things to move on to and get done.”
Kerry also defended Rice, who had initially been seen as the favorite to succeed Clinton, until she appeared on Sunday talk shows and, using talking points, said the attack had been “spontaneous.”
Asked whether he would support an investigation into Rice’s comments, Kerry replied firmly: “No, because I don’t believe it’s necessary.”
“Ambassador Rice has apologized for her mistaken comments, which were based on talking points that she was given. And she has made it clear that she was mistaken,” Kerry said.
“I am absolutely confident that Ambassador Rice did not purposefully mislead anybody. She was using the talking points and there was confusion in the early hours.”
But Kerry vowed he would work with lawmakers to answer any lingering questions, saying: “I do not want to spend the next year coming up here talking about Benghazi.”
“If there’s something legitimate that really needs to be put on the table, I’ll put it on the table,” he told the committee, at the start of two days of hearings about the State Department budget.
“Let’s put this behind us. We’ve got serious, major, big, current, important, vital to our national security issues to be debating. I’ll help you clear the air on this, but I want to do it in a fair-minded way.”