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Clinton Grilled on Benghazi Security, Emails

Clinton is expected to appear before the Republican-led panel for eight to ten hours.
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Republicans lawmakers aggressively questioned Hillary Clinton for eleven hours Thursday about the 2012 Benghazi attacks but failed to land a decisive blow that is sure to impact her presidential ambitions.

Despite the long day, Clinton maintained her cool, avoiding the flares of frustration she was criticized for after her 2013 testimony to Congress about the attacks.

The most fiery exchange during the grueling day-long hearing came between panel head Rep. Trey Gowdy and top Democrat Elijah Cummings, who clashed over what Cummings characterized as the panel’s politically-motivated withholding of Blumenthal’s closed-door testimony. Clinton sat wordlessly and smiled at times as the two lawmakers feuded.

Related: Benghazi 101

Clinton maintained throughout the hearing that she never saw requests from embassy personnel for increased security in the midst of escalating violence in the region, saying that those requests were routed through diplomatic security personnel. The September 11, 2012 attack left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"I communicated with [Stevens] about certain issues; he did not raise security with me," she told Gowdy. "He raised security with the security professionals. Now, I know that’s not the answer you want to hear because it’s been asked in many different ways by committee members. But those are the facts, Mr. Chairman."

Early in the hearing, the former secretary of state alluded to accusations that the committee is politically motivated and called on lawmakers to “reach for statesmanship” throughout the inquiry.

"Despite all the previous investigations and talk about partisan agendas. I'm here to honor those we lost, and to do what I can to aid those who serve us still," she said.

But some curt exchanges also came when Republicans questioned Clinton at length about Blumenthal, a onetime White House aide who frequently messaged Clinton on her personal email account.

Gowdy repeatedly asked why Clinton often received and forwarded information from a source who was not an employee of the State Department and did not have particular expertise about Libya.

Clinton replied that the information from Blumenthal was "originally unsolicited" but that some State Department officials occasionally found the data useful.

"I think that the sharing of information from an old friend that I did not take at face value that I sent on to those who were experts is something that makes sense," she said. "But it was certainly not in any way a primary source of or the predominant understanding that we had of what was going on in Libya and what we needed to be doing."

Clinton insisted numerous times that Blumenthal was not advising her, a claim that Republicans dismissed as unfounded based on the volume of email correspondence between the two.

After Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland pointed out the frequency with which Blumenthal messaged her on her private account, Clinton did acknowledge that Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the assault, did not have her personal email address. But she added that Stevens was in constant contact with officials in the State Department.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the panel, ridiculed his Republican colleagues' focus on Blumenthal, joking to Clinton at one point that an observer might "think he was in Benghazi, manning the barricades."

As the testimony stretched late into the evening, Republicans began focusing in on Clinton’s use of a private email server. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio asked Clinton “as the most transparent person ever” if she would agree to allow a neutral third party inspect any emails found on her private server.

Clinton said she has been releasing her emails and has been “the only government official to ever do that.

Schiff came to Clinton’s defense, citing House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments tying the panel to Clinton’s poll numbers. The comments have become a rallying cry for the Clinton campaign and Democrats who say the committee is politically motivated.

Earlier in the hearing, Clinton fielded questions about her role in addressing security concerns as the situation in Benghazi eroded.

Jordan questioned the former secretary of state at length about the Obama administration's initial claim that the attack was a spontaneous response to a video considered offensive to Muslims, pointing out that Clinton acknowledged in messages to "her family" and to the Egyptian prime minister that the attack was not related to the film.

Clinton countered that the situation was fluid in the hours after the incident, and she also said that her public statement alluded to the video because it was meant as "a warning to those across the region that there was no justification for further attacks."

"I’m sorry that it does not fit your narrative, Congressman," she added. "I can only tell you what the facts are."

Asked by Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., about the dearth of emails she sent or received about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, Clinton responded that she did not use email for the majority of her work at the time.

"I did not conduct most of the business that I did on behalf of our country on email," Clinton said. "I conducted it in meetings, I read massive amounts of memos, a great deal of classified information. I made a lot of secure phone calls, I was in and out of the White house all the time. There were a lot of things happening that I was aware of and that I was reacting to."

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., tied Clinton to the decision to deploy an air attack in Libya. A power vacuum after the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Khaddafy has been blamed for the rise of violent Islamic groups in the region.

“Our Libya policy couldn’t have happened without you,” he told Clinton. “After your plan, things in Libya today are a disaster.”

Clinton argued that President Barack Obama, not her, made the decision to use force in Libya.

“Congressman, I was the secretary of state,” she responded.

In a round of questioning later in the afternoon, Roskam also read from emails Clinton and her staff exchanged about highlighting her work on Benghazi policy, saying that Clinton spent significant time trying to bolster her political image.

Amid a lengthy exchange with Roskam about her role in Libya policymaking, Clinton said "I don't understand why that has anything to do with what we are talking about today."

An NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this week showed that just 27 percent of Americans said they are satisfied with Clinton’s response to the attacks, while 44 percent said they are not satisfied. But the public also remains unconvinced that the panel is fair and transparent. Thirty-six percent said the committee is unfair and partisan, compared with 29 percent who called it fair and impartial.