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Clinton, Benghazi raised at hearing on envoy

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's choice as chief U.S. envoy for Europe defended her role in the talking points created after last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, at a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that seemed focused as much on the tragedy as the future presidential prospects of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Victoria Nuland refused to blame Clinton, for whom she was spokeswoman when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission. Nuland said she objected to some of the administration's talking points in the days after Benghazi because they were inconsistent, inaccurate and risked prejudicing the FBI investigation into the attack.

"It was not for me to decide what we knew or what we could declassify," Nuland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

No one at the hearing expressed doubt about Nuland's qualifications for the job of assistant secretary of state for Europe -- a point a potential Republican opponent of Clinton for the presidency in 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), conceded.

But Nuland's prospects for confirmation appeared tied to how she answered questions on the Benghazi attack, with Republican senators asking her why the Obama administration shifted its public explanations of the assault. They wanted to know why, shortly afterward, Susan Rice, UN ambassador then and now national security adviser, blamed it on extremists who hijacked a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.

The consistent question was whether Nuland acted at Clinton's behest when she weighed in on the talking points being prepared for Congress. She said she never spoke to Clinton about the talking points and hadn't read any intelligence reports about the attack.

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