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US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton grilled in Congress over Benghazi

Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate and former Secretary of State has begun her testimony before a Congressional panel on the 2012 attacks on the US consulate in Libya. Clinton denies a cover-up.

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DW's Miodrag Soric on Clinton's Benghazi testimony

In the run up to Thursday's appearance by Clinton there had been widespread conjecture in the US media that the Republican-led panel was more interested in reducing the Democrat presidential candidate's standing in the opinion polls.

But Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman and a former federal prosecutor, made this comment in his opening statement: "Madame Secretary, I understand some people - frankly in both parties - have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not."

"Not a single member of this committee signed up for an investigation into you or your email system," Gowdy added in reference to another controversial issue surrounding Clinton.

But Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland said congressional Republicans had set up the panel for party reasons: "They set them loose, Madame Secretary, because you're running for president," he told Clinton. He called for the "taxpayer-funded fishing expedition" to be stopped.

Clinton had already testified to Congress on the Benghazi attacks - in late 2013. In 2012, a report by a government Accountability Review Board faulted State Department officials for "grossly" insufficient security in Benghazi.

Then-US ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed by suspected Islamist militants with guns, grenades and mortars who broke into the US mission compound in Benghazi three years ago. The panel has spent the last 17 months investigating the incident.

Full day of testimony

Clinton began her remarks to the panel on Thursday by remembering the four Americans who died in the September 11, 2012 attack. But she called for the US to maintain its global leadership role despite the threat posed to its diplomats. "We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology" Clinton said.

Clinton denied there had been any kind of cover-up over the incident. She has already denied claims that security requests from the Benghazi consulate had been denied, or that the US military had been ordered to stand down during the attacks. Republicans have also suggested her agency was involved in an elaborate gun-running scheme in eastern Libya. Clinton denies the claims which were also dismissed by the Accountability Review Board.

Thursday's hearing was expected to last the whole day - up to ten hours. Clinton was also expected to have to field questions over her use of a private email account and server while Secretary of State. This too has been a talking point in her campaign to become the next president of the United States.

Opinion polls present a mixed picture for Clinton. A new Associated Press-Gfk poll showed 40 percent of respondents neither approved or disapproved of how she has answered questions about the Benghazi attack. About 20 percent approved and 17 percent disapproved.

jm/msh (Reuters, AP)

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