Secretary of State John F. Kerry was overseas while the department he now runs was under heavy criticism at Wednesday’s hearing on the fatal attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, but the classic political scandal question awaited him upon his return early Friday morning.
Appearing hours later on an online forum hosted by Google+, Kerry had barely said hello before moderator and NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell asked whether he could guarantee there had not been a “politically motivated cover-up” after the Sept. 11 2012 deaths of four Americans in the Benghazi attack.
Kerry responded that after all the public congressional hearings and closed door classified briefings he attended about the fatal attacks, “I really haven’t learned anything new.”
Kerry said the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, communications officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were a tragedy, and he said it is plain that they died at the hands of terrorists.
“We run risks everywhere in the world,” Kerry said. “America can never cower, America can never hide and run away from our responsibility to try to advance human rights, build relationships with other countries, try to provide a vision of what life can be like in a strong democracy.”
Kerry said he respects the department employees who testified Wednesday, a reference to the unflattering portrait of the State Department painted by Stevens’s former deputy in Libya, Gregory Hicks. Hicks claimed he was effectively demoted after questioning why United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice omitted references to terrorism in her televised explanation of the attacks a few days afterward. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied any retaliation.
But Kerry strongly suggested the Republican focus on Benghazi is overblown and partisan.
“It was a tragedy, but I hate to see it turned into a pure, prolonged political process that really doesn’t tell us anything new about the facts.”
Most of the rest of Kerry’s 30-minute video roundtable concerned U.S. foreign policy priorities. Kerry spoke at length about U.S. influence and responsibility abroad, and listed climate change, a signature issue for him, as a main concern.
The session was a little awkward, with participants sometimes talking over one another, and their unmuted video streams made for background noise of chairs scraping and a door opening. Kerry, 69, looked slightly uncomfortable with the setting but took it in stride. He spoke admiringly of “blog power.”
Participants were selected in advance, and included a military officer with two tours in Afghanistan, a small business owner and a veterans’ advocate.