WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton opened a day-long congressional hearing investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack by taking aim at her Republican critics, saying she has taken responsibility for the death of four Americans in the attack.
Clinton, appearing before the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, said her appearance before the committee is to honor the four who died in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Libya. She also encouraged the committee to avoid partisanship amid continued speculation the investigation is an attempt to derail her presidential campaign.
"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.
"We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad," she said. "Leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology. We should debate on the basis of fact, not fear. We should resist denigrating the loyalty and patriotism of those with whom we disagree."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who is leading the investigation, opened the day rejecting accusations the hearing is part of a partisan-led plot against her campaign.
"Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods served our country with courage and with honor. They were killed under circumstances most of us could never imagine. Under cover of darkness, terrorists poured through the front gate of our facility and attacked our people and our property with machine guns, mortars and fire," Gowdy said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the committee, assailed the investigation as abusive, saying it is impossible for "any reasonable person to continue denying that Republicans are squandering millions of taxpayer dollars" to derail Clinton's campaign. He said the previous investigations have proven she has no blame in the deaths.
"The problem is that rather than accepting these facts, Republicans continue to spin new conspiracy theories that are just as outlandish and inaccurate," he said.
The hearing follows months of reports about Clinton's use of a private home email server for her work at the State Department. Thousands of emails from the server have been released as part of the Benghazi committee's demand.
In January 2013, Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she answered questions about security at Benghazi, among other things.
Thursday, Clinton was grilled about security at the outpost and how the administration responded. The biggest difference between Thursday's testimony and that in 2013 is her use of the private email server was not known earlier.
"I would imagine I have thought more about what happened than all of you put together," she said. "I have lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been wracking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done."
Rep. Jim Jordan R-Oh, went after Clinton for blaming the attack on an anti-Muslim video on YouTube. Clinton brushed off the allegation and said it was difficult to gather all the information in the hours after the attack.
"I am sorry that it doesn't fit your narrative congressman," she said. "I can only tell you what the facts are."
Clinton said she took ultimate responsibility for what happened, but made it clear when talking about operational security, she deferred to the security experts.
"I was responsible for quite a lot," she said. "I was not responsible for specific requests and security provisions. That is not something I was responsible for."
Clinton pointed out that when she was still secretary, she set up an independent Accountability Review Board that offered 29 recommendations to improve security for U.S. diplomats. Previous attacks, she said, like those in 1983 on the U.S. Embassy and Marines barracks in Beirut, yielded positive changes to U.S. security procedures after Congress held nonpartisan investigations.
Already several of Clintons staffers and confidants have met with the Benghazi committee, including Huma Abedin, Clinton's longtime aide, and Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime friend to both Bill and Hillary Clinton and informal adviser.
In the past weeks, Republican lawmakers have come forward to say the fact-finding mission is actually a political witch hunt, putting committee members on the defensive and giving Clinton and her fellow Democrats a much-needed boost.
A CNN/ORC poll released Thursday indicated 72 percent of Americans believe the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigation is politically motivated. A smaller majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- believe the way Clinton handled her email while with the State Department reflects her ability to serve as president.
The hearing scheduled began 10 a.m.