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Clinton Grilled on Benghazi

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(NBC News) - Appearing at a day-long hearing on Capitol Hill, Hillary Clinton faced a battery of questions from Republicans Thursday about her response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks and about her relationship with friend Sidney Blumenthal, who frequently emailed her about the region.

Near the end of the first part of the hearing, which stretched for more than three hours before a midday break, Republicans on the GOP-led panel questioned Clinton at length about Blumenthal, a onetime White House aide who frequently messaged Clinton on her personal email account.

Committee chief Rep. Trey 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, who maintained an even tone in her responses throughout the morning, 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 maintained 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.

While Clinton avoided fiery responses to questions, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel openly warred with Gowdy at the conclusion of the morning's session, and demanded that the committee release Blumenthal's private testimony to lawmakers in full.

Clinton sat wordlessly, smiling at times as the committee's top two members argued with raised voices.

"You asked for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!" Cummings said. "Well that's what we want to have! Let the world see it!"

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

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio 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.

Early in her testimony, Clinton alluded to accusations that the committee is politically motivated, saying that she intends her appearance to honor the four Americans lost in the September 11, 2012 attacks.

"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.

The former secretary of state is expected to take questions for at least eight to ten hours from members of the GOP-led committee.

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