Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are accusing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of a failure of leadership for her handling of events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But it may be four years before they try to hold her accountable to the American people.
The two Republicans from Kentucky and Florida, respectively, are at the top of a potential GOP list of candidates who could enter the 2016 presidential race to face Clinton, already cited by many in her party as a potential Democratic nominee.
Speaking on separate Fox News programs Wednesday night, Paul and Rubio steered clear of any mention of possible bids for the presidency. But both suggested Clinton would have to face continued questioning for a long time to come about security failures related to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack and her management of events before and after the deaths at the Benghazi compound of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Both senators said the deaths might have been prevented had Clinton been more directly involved in security decisions for U.S. personnel serving in Libya.
"I think she feels some guilt over this," Paul acknowledged in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity. "I hope she feels accountable for this, I hope she feels culpability.
"It has taken an emotional toll on her and rightfully so," he continued.
"But really, these were tough decisions and she didn't show leadership in this. The fact that she wasn't reading these cables [requesting more security] from Ambassador Stevens, she wasn't performing her job adequately. And I think for that, she needs to be held accountable."
Paul said he still believes, as he indicated in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday where Clinton testified, that the secretary should have been fired for what happened in Benghazi, calling it "inexcusable."
"I held her accountable today," he told Hannity, referring to a harsh comments he made directly to Clinton during the hearing. "And I hope that people will hold her accountable."
For his part, Rubio suggested to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that Clinton may not have been completely forthcoming in her answers to the committee.
"Time will tell whether some of the things she said [at the hearing] bear out to be true or not," he said. "I mean, these things have a way of flushing themselves out . . . I'm not going to sit here and accuse the secretary of lying. I'm going to tell you I'm concerned about some of her answers."
Rubio, however, did accuse Clinton and her colleagues at the State Department of "bad decision-making" for not increasing security in Benghazi, despite clear evidence of terrorist activities in Benghazi and other nearby areas tied to al-Qaida affiliates and Islamist extremists.
"She was clearly aware that Libya was a very dangerous place. And I think as time goes on, we are going to learn more about who knew what," said Rubio, suggesting the Benghazi attack could remain a political issue for some time.
"Here's what I don't believe," he added. "I don't believe that the only people aware of what a bad situation it was were the mid-level people that resigned."
"Only one of two things could have happened," he continued. "Either the information didn't get to where it needed to go, or the information got to where it needed to go, but the response was not appropriate. Both are bad."
In his exchange with Clinton during the hearing, Paul boldly declared that if he were president, he would have immediately fired her for failing to beef up U.S. security in Benghazi and treating the Consulate there as if it were the U.S. Embassy in the middle of Paris.
"They tried to say they're the same thing and they're not," he told Hannity.
"One is in a war zone and should have been treated differently.
"I'm still fearful that in the future we could have another problem in Libya," he continued, before raising the possibility of a similar situation developing in Syria.
"Are we going to do the same thing and send an embassy to a new government in Syria without adequate military protection. That's what I'm concerned about."
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