WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's choice as chief U.S. envoy for Europe defended her role in the talking points created after last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, at a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. The hearing seemed focused as much on the tragedy as the future presidential prospects of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Victoria Nuland refused to blame Clinton, for whom she served as spokeswoman when U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission last Sept. 11. Nuland said she objected to some of the administration's talking points in the days after Benghazi because they were inconsistent, inaccurate and risked prejudicing the FBI investigation into those responsible for the attack.
"It was not for me to decide what we knew or what we could declassify," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
No one at the hearing expressed doubt about Nuland's qualifications for the job of assistant secretary of state for Europe — a point a potential Republican opponent of Clinton for the presidency in 2016, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, conceded.
But Nuland's prospects for confirmation appeared tied to how she answered questions on the Benghazi attack, with several Republican senators asking her why the Obama administration shifted its public explanations of the assault. They also wanted to know why the president's former U.N. ambassador and current national security adviser, Susan Rice, blamed it on extremists who hijacked a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.
Nuland sought the removal of references to a Libyan militia group and jihadists possibly laying siege to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. In publicly released emails, Nuland cited concerns of her "building's leadership." On Thursday, she said she never spoke to Clinton about the talking points and hadn't read any intelligence reports about the attack.