For the U.S. to lead in a dangerous world, it must continue to accept risks as it pursues diplomatic efforts, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Republican-led House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, facing a long day of questioning Thursday about her role before and after the September 11 attack on the compound, spoke in measured tones about the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans when she was the country's top diplomat.
"America must lead in a dangerous world, and our diplomats must continue representing us in dangerous places,” Clinton said. Noting that perfect security can never be achieved, she said, "We inevitably must accept a level of risk to protect our country and advance our interests and values."
She said the deadly attacks, in which suspected Islamist militants invaded the U.S. compound with guns, grenades and mortars, should not discourage U.S. action globally: "When America is absent, especially from unstable places, there are consequences."
WATCH: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Committee on Benghazi
For example, she noted the various attacks on U.S. diplomatic and military installations overseas during the presidencies of her husband, Bill Clinton, in the 1990s and Ronald Reagan a decade earlier.
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy opened the hearing with a lengthy explanation as to the need for the panel and how it differed from other review boards. Questions lingered regarding the government's actions before and after the attacks in Benghazi, “because previous investigations were not thorough," he said.
Gowdy told Clinton the hearing was looking for the truth about the diplomatic compound's request for more security, equipment and personnel -- and what was being discussed in Washington while the Americans were under attack.
Gowdy also made a reference to Clinton's months-long email controversy, in which it was revealed in March 2015 that she had used a privately maintained email server during her tenure at the State Department.
Her testimony comes as criticism mounts behind accusations that Republicans are using it to damage Clinton's bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Democrats have seized on remarks made earlier this month by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy during an appearance on a Fox News program. McCarthy appeared to boast that since House Republicans created the special committee looking into the attacks, Clinton's approval ratings have dropped.
House Select Committee on Benghazi ranking member Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, on Tuesday used his opening statement to criticize the panel, saying the panel’s work is politically motivated against Clinton.
"Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties – have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not," Gowdy told Clinton in his opening statement.
Cummings said the families of those killed in Libya asked the committee for three things: to not make the investigation a political football, find the facts, and make sure this sort of incident does not happen again.
Committee member Susan Brooks, a Republican, said that a collection of emails – 795 emails in 2011 and 67 emails in 2012 -- suggested the Obama administration and Clinton had lost interest in Libya in the months prior to deadly attacks in Benghazi in September 2012.
“I can only conclude by your own records a lack of interest in Libya in 2012,” Brooks said.
Clinton denies there was any diminished interest in Libya, saying, “I did not do the vast majority of my work by email.” She explained that she had private meetings and secure phone calls with aides.
“I don’t want you to have a mistaken impression about what I did and how I did it,” Clinton added.
The panel was created in May 2014 after seven previous congressional probes into the attack. Democrats have called for the panel to be disbanded, saying it has not come up with any new information about Benghazi and is wasting taxpayer money, having spent more than $4.5 million so far.
Security in Benghazi
During testimony, Clinton said it was clear U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi wasn't provided with all the requested security, adding neither Ambassador nor the diplomatic mission got everything that was asked for.
But Clinton also testified that even critics of the level of security in Benghazi have said the type of attack that took place would have been difficult to repel.
Her comments came in response to committee member Martha Roby, a Republican, who quoted a review board’s report that found security was “grossly inadequate.”
A 2012 report by a government accountability review board sharply faulted State Department officials for providing "grossly" insufficient security in Benghazi, despite upgrade requests from Stevens and others in Libya. A bipartisan Senate committee report called keeping the Benghazi mission open under those circumstances "a grievous mistake."
Clinton said the Obama administration has tried to comply with the board’s recommendations.
The State Department pulled out of Benghazi immediately after the attack and left Libya altogether in 2014. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli remains shuttered, the country still considered too unstable and dangerous for a return.
In late 2013, Clinton delivered sometimes-heated congressional testimony on the Benghazi attacks.
Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.