By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Two South Carolina lawmakers were among Republicans who challenged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday about her handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year.
Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the attack, which killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.
Rep. Joe Wilson, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, focused on Clinton's statement that, prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, Congress had not provided all the money the State Department had requested for diplomatic security.
Wilson said he agreed with an earlier statement by a State Department finance official that the agency has not sacrificed security because of budget constraints.
"I have faith that is a correct statement," Wilson said.
But Clinton said an independent review board that investigated the State Department's mistakes found lack of funding was a factor.
"This is a bipartisan problem," Clinton said.
Members of the House and Senate committees grilled Clinton on several issues: an escalating security threat in the Benghazi region that they said wasn't acted on, a cable from Stevens expressing concerns about violence in Benghazi, and post-attack comments by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said incorrectly the incident appeared to have grown spontaneously from a political protest.
Republicans appeared agitated over what they believe was the Obama administration's attempt to whitewash news of a politically damaging terrorist attack weeks before the 2012 election.
The GOP committee members questioned Clinton aggressively - Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would have fired her if he were president - but Democrats on the two committees largely defended her tenure.
Clinton will step down as secretary of state after the Senate confirms Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to replace her.
Wilson also said Clinton, not Rice, should have gone on the Sunday talk shows after the attack to provide more accurate information about the Benghazi attack. Clinton said she had other priorities in managing the unfolding crisis.
"I believe part of the priority is telling correct information, and you could have done that," Wilson said.
The morning after the attack, Clinton described it as having been led by heavily armed militants.
In her morning testimony before the Senate committee, Clinton responded to questions about Rice's initial comments blaming the attack on a violent protest over an anti-Muslim video by asking, "What difference at this point does it make?"
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, took issue with that when Clinton appeared later before the House committee.
"I'll tell you what difference it makes. It makes a difference when Americans think they were misled about something for political reasons," Duncan said.
Duncan also questioned why four State Department employees were removed from their jobs and placed on administrative leave, but not fired, after they were found to have mishandled security at the compound.
"Madame secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap, and that is national security malpractice," Duncan said.
Clinton accepted responsibility for the deaths of Stevens and the other three Americans, and spoke of her personal sense of loss.
"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters," she said.
She also said she has accepted all 29 recommendations from the independent review board about how to improve diplomatic communication and security around the world. She said most will be fully implemented by the end of March.
"All of these actions are designed to increase the safety of our diplomats and development experts and reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again," she said.