But the deaths in Benghazi have opened Clinton up to the charge that her department should have done more to safeguard diplomats from militants in an increasingly violent country.
Briefing reporters on Tuesday, State Department officials said that Stevens’s trip had been routine before the attack and that on the night of the attack he escorted his last guest out the front gate about 8:30 p.m. The ambassador stood on the quiet street to say goodbye, then retired to his room.
At 9:40 p.m., there was an explosion and gunfire at the gates, and a wave of armed men flowed into the compound. The armed crowd quickly assaulted all four buildings on the compound with mortars, small arms and possibly with rocket-propelled grenades, the official said.
With the building on fire and rapidly filling with smoke, a security agent tried to lead Stevens and information officer Sean Smith out a bedroom window, but when the agent tumbled out, the two others did not follow, the official said. Repeated attempts by the agent to find Stevens and Smith failed.
Neither Romney nor congressional Republicans have directly faulted Clinton over security in Libya and do not appear eager to saddle her with the blame. Instead, much of the Republican criticism has been directed at Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who initially said that the attacks were apparently the result of anti-American protests that spun out of control.
Still, Issa sent a stern letter to Clinton last week, asking why additional security had been denied to diplomats at the lightly defended mission in Benghazi where Stevens died. The letter questioned the administration’s early public claim that the attack was part of a spontaneous public protest over an anti-Muslim Internet video.
The State Department has said that a review panel, led by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, is working to answer such questions.
“Our posture is to be as cooperative as we possibly can,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
Her comments came as the Republican-led oversight committee released the State Department’s compilation of more than 200 security-related threats in Libya since June 2011.
The documents show that less than two months before the attack in Benghazi, the State Department assessed that the risk of violence to diplomats and other Americans in Libya was high and that the weak U.S.-backed government in Tripoli could do little about it.
The department, the documents show, approved a 30 percent “danger pay” bonus for Americans working in Libya during the summer.
The department’s former top security officer has told the House committee that he had recommended keeping U.S. military and additional State Department security forces on hand through October. “The [Libyan government] was overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection,” former regional security officer Eric A. Nordstrom wrote Oct. 1. “Sadly, that point was reaffirmed Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi.”
Nordstrom is scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s oversight hearing.
Although Clinton will not appear, the State Department requested that Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy be a witness. Little known outside Washington, Kennedy is a low-key bureaucratic firefighter who was already managing the back and forth with Congress over the attacks.
Julie Tate in Washington and Michael Birnbaum in Tripoli contributed to this report.