Paul Greenberg

Hillary Clinton kept her cool last week as she fielded questions from two congressional committees about the State Department's failure to protect our envoys at Benghazi. Until a senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, pressed her on the subject. That's when she lost it:

"What difference at this point does it make?" she wanted to know.

What difference? It made the difference between life and death for Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty and Sean Smith, the four Americans killed in the attack.

According to the official line, they were all the victims of a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand. That was the story dutifully repeated on the Sunday talk shows by the administration's ambassador to the United Nations -- Susan Rice. Even though it had little or no basis in fact.

But what difference does it make at this point? It makes a difference because the questions that so upset Hillary Clinton go to the heart of this administration's credibility -- and hers, too.

Those four Americans, as it turns out, were killed by a well-planned terrorist attack long in the making. Not because a demonstration got out of hand, as the administration knew or should have known almost from the first, and finally had to admit.

But at the time our president and commander-in-chief was engaged in a heated re-election campaign, and he was claiming he had al-Qaida on the run. It might have been embarrassing if he'd had to confess that our poorly defended station in Benghazi had been overrun by al-Qaida or one of its allied branches -- just when he was claiming it had been decimated.

Predictably enough, Hillary Clinton rejects any such explanation for the administration's changing stories about Benghazi. To quote her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "I told the American people that heavily armed militants assaulted our compound. ... And I stood with President Obama as he spoke of 'an act of terror.'"

She felt no need to go into detail: that the president made his generalized reference to terror as a postscript, almost an afterthought, to his statement that day, and made no specific mention of a terrorist attack. Or of the repeated requests for more protection that our people in Benghazi had made, and that the State Department (Hillary Clinton, secretary) had brushed off. Or the numerous signs of an impending attack that had been ignored by Washington.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.