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October 23, 2014

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Report: Clinton defends response to Benghazi in new book

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Steve Marcus

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to members of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries during their annual convention at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Thursday, April 10, 2014.

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton dismisses her critics and defends her handling of the deadly 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, in her new book, offering fellow Democrats a guide for how to talk about the fraught issue through the 2016 presidential race.

The former secretary of state's "Hard Choices" is a rebuke to Republicans who have seized upon the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Should Clinton run for president in 2016, her four years as secretary of state and the Benghazi attack in particular are certain to be the subject of driving criticism from Republicans. She's already trying to blunt the issue.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of stonewalling congressional investigators and misleading the public about the nature of the attack in the weeks before the presidential election. Republicans used the attack to try to undermine President Barack Obama's re-election and, now, to tarnish the still-uncertain Clinton bid to replace him in early 2017.

"Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country," Clinton writes in a 34-page chapter, obtained by Politico.

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said that "until the book is released, there's nothing to say. And once it's released, it will speak for itself." The book comes out June 10.

The former first lady and senator from New York is the leading potential Democratic presidential candidate if she decides to run again, as well as a favorite Republican target.

Clinton writes that she takes responsibility for the deaths, but adds that there has been "a regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation and flat-out deceit" by some in politics and the media.

"I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It's just plain wrong, and it's unworthy of our great country," Clinton writes. "Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me."

Clinton's book also offers something of a playbook for her supporters to defend her as she weighs a presidential bid.

On Friday, her top advisers met for an hour with 33 friendly Democratic strategists, allies and foreign policy academics who work in Washington's vast think-tank network. Clinton counselor Philippe Reines led the session and former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who is helping Clinton's team during the book launch, joined the discussion about how to frame Benghazi.

Multiple independent, bipartisan and GOP-led investigations have faulted the State Department for inadequate security in Benghazi, leading to four demotions. No attacker has been arrested.

Obama and Clinton allies alike have argued that there is no new information following more than a dozen public hearings and the release of 25,000 pages of documents.

"That's what many of us are going to point out, that it's an old issue, it's a red herring," said Matt Bennett, a veteran of Bill Clinton's White House and one of the Democrats who attended the briefing of Hillary Clinton's book. "It dishonors the people who were lost by politicizing it."

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner said his fellow Republicans wanted answers, not politics.

"It is clear to me — and has been clear — that the American people have not been told the truth about Benghazi and we're committed to getting it," Boehner said.

The House voted earlier this month to establish a select committee to conduct what will be the eighth investigation into the attack, a panel that Democrats reluctantly joined.

Clinton says she respects the oversight role of Congress but adds, "Many of these same people are a broken record about unanswered questions. But there is a difference between unanswered questions and unlistened to answers."

Clinton's timeline of the Benghazi attack is one of the most anticipated sections of her forthcoming book.

Already, Clinton's team has released excerpts about her appreciation of public service and memories of her late mother. Releasing bits and pieces has not only built buzz for the book but drawn more attention to each theme.

By devoting an entire chapter to Benghazi and releasing it before the full book, Clinton wins increased attention to her accounting of that night.

Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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