Benghazi weighs heavy on Clinton’s conscience

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jan 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-27 19:21:11-05

(CNN) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya was her biggest regret during the four years she served as America’s top diplomat.

In a speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, Clinton addressed a number of auto-related topics, including some of the more colorful cars former President Bill Clinton has owned and the fact that she hasn’t driven a car since 1996.

“My biggest regret is what happened in Benghazi,” Clinton said in response to a question from David Westcott, the outgoing chairman of NADA. “It was a terrible tragedy losing four Americans, two diplomats and now it is public so I can say two CIA operatives.”

Clinton said that while at the State Department, some of the decisions she made were “based on imperfect information,” and that despite the right intentions came with “unforeseen consequences, unpredictable twists and turns.”

Benghazi, she said, “illustrated one of the biggest problems that I faced as Secretary of State: We have a lot of dangerous locations where we send not our military, but our civilians. And they go in, they have language skills often, they try to assess what is going on in the area, but they are vulnerable.”

This is not the first time she has said that she regretted the Benghazi attack, but she rarely addresses the incident, especially in this detail. In a global town hall in January 2013, Clinton made similar comments, stating that “We have to understand from the very beginning you can’t control everything.”

The remarks also come just days after the one year anniversary of Clinton’s testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Benghazi attack.

The U.S. consulate in Libya was attacked on September 11, 2012. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed. Initially, the attack was thought to be perpetrated by an angry mob responding to a video made in the U.S. which mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, but was later determined to be a terrorist attack.

Questions about Benghazi have dogged Clinton since the attack and some some have questioned whether the former first lady is to blame for Steven’s death — the first U.S. ambassador killed on duty in over thirty years.

In a Senate report put out earlier this month, the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound was deemed “likely preventable” based on known security shortfalls and prior warnings that the security situation there was deteriorating.

Benghazi is likely to continue to dog Clinton as she considers whether to run for president in 2016. Since the attack, Republicans have held Clinton culpable and some have said the attack should disqualify her from holding future elected office.

The speech, like many other paid remarks she’s made, was due to be closed to the press. On Friday however, event organizers notified CNN that Clinton’s comments would be open to cameras at the request of her aides.

Like she has at past public appearances, Clinton was coy about whether she’s thinking about a 2016 run, despite the fact that the audience applauded at the prospect.

“I am not thinking about it,” Clinton said. “I am trying to get other people not to think about it. I’ll think about it, you know, in the future sometime.”

She added, “We can worry about the next election later. I think we spend too much time looking over the horizon instead of looking straight ahead and saying, ‘hey, we can do better.'”

Despite Clinton’s denials, a cadre of former aides and supporters have begun to build the groundwork for a possible run in 2016. In addition to groups like Ready for Hillary and Emily’s List – two pro-Clinton fundraising machines – Priorities USA – which was the top super PAC supporting President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election – moved last week to get behind Clinton and announced they will begin raising big money to help elect Clinton to the White House.

Since leaving the State Department in 2013, the former Secretary of State has kept up an active schedule, collecting paychecks on the corporate speaking circuit and picking up hardware at award ceremonies across the country.

The auto sales group would not comment on how much they were paying Clinton to appear at the winter meeting.

Because the speech was to a group of people who own and operate auto dealerships across the country, much of Clinton’s remarks were centered around how the auto industry has helped build the American middle class and helped the country recover from the economic downturn.

Clinton also made an auto admission of her own, telling the audience that because of the security around her, she has not driven a car since 1996.

“One of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can’t drive anymore,” she said. “My husband thinks that’s a blessing, but he is the one who should talk. Last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996 and I remember it very well and unfortunately so does the Secret Service which is why I haven’t driven since then.”

Other auto admissions made: Bill Clinton has owned both a 1970 burnt orange Opel station wagon — “With all due respect, one of the ugliest cars ever built” — and a Chevy El Camino Pickup truck with the bed in the back covered in astro turf.

Though National Automobile Dealers Association convention organizers said they were excited about welcoming Clinton as their keynote speaker, some members of the organization reportedly planned to boycott the event because Clinton was speaking.

“I don’t have a problem with them meeting with her,” Jon Lind, general manager of a Ford-Lincoln dealership in tiny Burlington, Colorado, told Auto News. “But when I see the announcement that the ‘Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton’ will be giving the keynote address, the hair on my back just sticks up. Why her?”

The group has long invited high profile politicians and policy makers to address the group. In 2007, President George W. Bush spoke at the conference and the 2009 convention saw former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush address the audience.

CNN’s Athena Jones contributed to this report.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.