Hillary Clinton Talks of Benghazi's Personal Toll

Clinton: “The hardest part is to think about Sean Smith and Chris Stevens"

June 9, 2014, 8:58 PM

June 9, 2014 -- In her exclusive interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that nearly two years after the terror attack on the Benghazi mission in Libya the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods still weigh heavily on her heart.

Clinton personally sent Stevens, an Arab speaker known for his big optimistic smile, to Libya. She told Sawyer that she was haunted thinking of the last minutes of his life along with technology specialist Smith. The men were hiding in a fortified room, suffocating to death as militants set the house on fire. Two former Navy Seals would also die that night at a CIA annex nearby, taken down by mortar bombs.

“The hardest part is to think about Sean Smith and Chris Stevens-- being trapped,” said Clinton. “When I think about that it just breaks my heart because-- diplomatic security personnel were performing heroically.”

In the interview, coinciding with the release of her autobiography “Hard Choices” on Tuesday, Clinton told Sawyer that she feels “crushed” and “overwhelmed by grief” when she thinks about the loss of “such good people and such extraordinary examples of what America stands for.”

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Following the attack, Clinton spoke to the victim’s families, greeting the coffins at Andrews Air force base. But since that time Sean Smith’s mother has testified that no one from the administration has answered her family’s questions about her son’s death, leaving her in anguish. Clinton said that while she understands his mother’s pain, the allegation is untrue.

“Well that’s not the case,” she said. “His next of kin was his wife and his children. And we certainly have been very concerned about them.”

Smith’s mother testified before a Republican-led Congressional hearing on Benghazi, of which there have been multiple, with at least one more slated for later this year. But the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State is unfazed by talk of a “get Hillary committee”.

She says being a favorite target of Republicans is nothing new. “That's not the first time that's been tried, I must tell them,” she told Sawyer.

In the interview, Clinton did not say definitively whether she will testify before the new Congressional committee that will examine the attack if called to do so. "That's going to be up to the people running the hearing," she told Sawyer.

But she bemoaned what she views as politics being played with a national tragedy.

“What I do not appreciate is politicizing this at the expense of four dead Americans. That's not what we used to do in this country,” she said. “When 258 Americans were killed in Beirut in two separate attacks, people mourned. People were shocked. Decisions were made. Bring them out. You know, strengthen the embassy.”

Clinton also stood by her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2013 where she asked, “what difference at this point does it make?” regarding whether the administration’s original talking points stating that the attack grew out of protests over an anti-Muslim video were correct.

Asked whether she wants to change the phrasing of the controversial statement that has been used by her detractors, Clinton declined.“No, no, I don't,” she told Sawyer. “Because the point of what I said at the time was, ‘You know, if you're gonna stay fixated on things like talking points, or fixated on whether or not everybody was effected or not by the video, you're missing the larger picture.’”

And while Clinton told Sawyer that she takes responsibility for the incident that happened under her watch, she does not believe that she, personally, could have done anything to prevent the attack.

“Well, I certainly would give anything on earth if this had not happened. And I certainly would wish that we had made some of the changes that came to our attention to make as a result of the investigation. But I also am clear in my own mind that we had a system and that system, of course, ended with me,” she said. “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions.”Clinton said her role in securing the American mission in Benghazi, was to give "very direct instructions" to security experts and she said she was right to defer to their judgment.

"I'm not equipped to sit and look at blueprints, to determine where the blast walls need to be or where the reinforcements need to be," she added. "That's why we hire people who have that expertise."

Clinton told Sawyer that she views all of the criticism over her role in the deadly 2012 attack as “more of a reason to” -- rather than not to -- run for president in 2016.

“Actually, it's more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors,” Clinton said. “I view this as really apart from -- even a diversion from -- the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world.”

ABC’s Liz Kreutz contributed reporting.

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