WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's choice as chief American envoy for Europe told a Senate panel Thursday that she would make the expansion of trade and democracy top priorities if confirmed. But some Republicans wanted to know more about her former State Department boss, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the deadly attacks against Americans last year in Benghazi, Libya.
Appearing for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Nuland spoke in soaring terms about reviving "foundations of global leadership and our democratic, free market way of life." Growth and jobs are needed on both sides of the Atlantic, she said.
Nobody argues with that. And none disputed Nuland's qualifications for the job to which she is nominated.
Of more interest to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was whether Nuland felt that Americans deserved the truth about Benghazi, what people specifically she meant when she cited concerns about the administration's talking points held by her "building's leadership."
Nuland said the U.S. public, Congress and friends of the victims like herself deserved the truth. She said she objected to some of the CIA-prepared talking points because they were inconsistent, inaccurate and risked prejudicing an FBI investigation into those responsible for killing four Americans.
She said the leadership referred to "all of my bosses" at the State Department but said she didn't speak with Clinton or most other senior staff specifically in the days after Benghazi about the talking points. She said she, herself, didn't look at intelligence reports.
Sen. Jim Risch asked when she knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Nuland replied that she considered it terrorism in the first days after the attack when both Obama and Clinton referred to it as such.
And Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John Barrasso of Wyoming had more questions about Benghazi. Rubio noted that he didn't dispute Nuland's qualifications for the job and was mainly asking her about Benghazi because the administration wasn't sending other officials to Congress to talk about the attack. He hoped Nuland's testimony could "close the book" on lingering questions about the attack.
Rarely is a potential assistant secretary of state expected to expound on such politically sensitive policy issues.
But Nuland has powerful Democratic patrons. She also previously served as an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent conservative foreign policy scholar Bob Kagan, in attendance in the front row. Clinton and her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, have placed Nuland in the middle of some of Obama's biggest foreign policy challenges recently, including the deadly attack last year in Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
"There are still some things that need to be known," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who told Clinton earlier this year he would have fired her after Benghazi. Paul told The Associated Press he hoped to learn at the confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whether weapons the assailants used in the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack had any connection to U.S. intelligence operations in Libya or Syria.
Nuland, he said, "was Hillary Clinton's spokeswoman and I'm guessing she was in the room for a lot of conversations."
As a Russia expert, Nuland also was called on to give her view of the "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations under Obama. That effort has stumbled over many issues, including Syria's civil war and a Kremlin crackdown on pro-democracy organizations and most recently Moscow's continued protection of American secrets leaker Edward Snowden.
Ahead of the hearing, leading Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina came out in favor of Nuland despite accusations by some in their party that she helped State Department superiors water down the now-infamous talking points used by the administration to inform Americans about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission.
Republicans have focused on the administration's talking points since they were used by Susan Rice, then Obama's U.N. ambassador and now his national security adviser, for her public explanation five days after the attack. Rice blamed it on extremists hijacking a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.
As officials rescinded that account, some Republicans accused the administration of trying to mislead the country about an act of terrorism in the heat of a presidential campaign. Ten months later, congressional investigations continue.
As the talking points were being edited, Nuland insisted on removing a reference to a CIA warning about the potential for anti-American demonstrations in Cairo and jihadists trying to break into that embassy. In emails released by the administration, she warned that such wording "could be abused" by lawmakers to criticize her department. She specifically cited the concerns of her "building's leadership."