John R. Bolton, U.N. ambassador under the George W. Bush administration, told Fox News Channel a Clinton staff explanation the former first lady fainted, hitting her head and suffering a concussion, so she couldn't testify before Congress, was what foreign-service officers call a "diplomatic illness," intended to free a diplomat from an unpleasant duty.
"This is a diplomatic illness to beat the band," said Bolton, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank and a Fox News commentator who was also a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"I mean, I hope it's nothing serious. But this was revealed in a way that I think was not transparent and I think there is an obligation here," Bolton said.
Clinton's staff said Sunday she wouldn't be able to testify because of a concussion she sustained after fainting last week. Clinton, who has visited 112 countries and logged nearly 1 million miles, contracted a stomach virus while traveling overseas, her aides said, and was suffering from dehydration when she blacked out.
Instead of Clinton, the State Department was to send No. 2 diplomat William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas R. Nides to brief the Senate and House panels.
Clinton said in a letter Monday to the heads of both panels she would answer their questions in January.
The 8 a.m. EST Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, titled "Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned," was to be chaired by John Kerry, D-Mass., who is expected to be nominated to succeed Clinton as secretary of state.
The 1 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, titled "Benghazi Attack, Part II: The Report of the Accountability Review Board," was to be chaired by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The testimony by Burns and Nides comes a day after four State Department officials were removed from their posts after an independent review board criticized "grossly inadequate" security at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that was attacked Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The highest-ranking official, Eric Boswell, head of the Diplomatic Security Bureau, resigned effective immediately, the State Department said late Wednesday. The three others were responsible for other aspects of embassy security and planning for Libya and the Middle East, the department said, without naming them.
They were relieved of their responsibilities and were expected to be reassigned, a senior administration official told The Washington Post.
Two of the three were identified by The New York Times as Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary responsible for North Africa.
The report by the Clinton-appointed Accountability Review Board criticized officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the State Department's security and law enforcement arm, as having displayed a "lack of proactive leadership."
It also said some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs "showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi's security issues."
The report did not criticize more senior officials, including Clinton or Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, who has vigorously defended the State Department's Benghazi decision-making before Congress.
Review board Co-chairman retired U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday the board did not find any officials who had "engaged in willful misconduct or knowingly ignored his or her responsibilities."
But he said, "We did conclude that certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical levels of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by the special mission."
The Los Angeles Times said Clinton's withdrawal from Thursday's hearing prompted speculation in some circles she wanted to finish her term as chief diplomat without suffering any criticism for the attack. Clinton has said she does not intend to serve in President Barack Obama's second term.
Clinton has largely avoided criticism over Benghazi even as she has publicly accepted responsibility for inadequate security at the U.S. Consulate.
Clinton is widely considered a top Democratic presidential contender in 2016.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland assailed Bolton for his suggestion Clinton faked her illness to avoid Thursday's testimony, calling it "completely untrue."
She said Bolton and others who questioned the concussion "are people who don't know what they're talking about."
"It's really unfortunate that in times like this, people make wild speculation based on no information," she said, adding Clinton was "on the mend" and would be "absolutely fine."
Fox News described the injury as a "purported concussion."
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