The stepfather of Grass Valley-born Ambassador Chris Stevens said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reached out to his family to offer her sympathies about the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the consulate in Libya that killed his stepson.
However, Clinton, who testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill about her department’s missteps leading up to the assault at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, did not offer Stevens’ family any privileged information about the adequacy of diplomatic security preceding the attack, said Bob Commanday, the husband of Stevens’ mother, Mary Commanday.
“We’re very aware of her sympathy because of our contact with her and the way she has connected with us and written to us,” said Bob Commanday, an Oakland resident.
“It’s a tragedy and nothing that is said or done can bring him back, so we are just going on with life.”
In her testimony, Clinton delivered fiery rejoinders to Republican critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the attack, facing off with lawmakers who included potential 2016 presidential rivals.
At times emotional and frequently combative, Clinton rejected GOP suggestions in two congressional hearings that the administration tried to mislead the country about the attack that occurred on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and killed Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans.
Clinton insisted that the department was moving swiftly and aggressively to strengthen security at U.S. missions worldwide, but also noted that requests for more security at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi didn’t reach her desk, and reminded lawmakers that they have a responsibility to fund security-related budget requests.
Her voice cracking at one point, Clinton, who again took responsibility for the department’s missteps and failures leading up to the assault, said the attack and the aftermath were highly personal tragedies for the families of the victims who died — Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — as well as herself.
“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a packed hearing.
Stevens, 52, was born in Grass Valley and grew up in a family of doctors and lawyers in Piedmont near Oakland and showed an early interest in foreign policy.
He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982, and learned Arabic when he subsequently volunteered for the Peace Corps as an English teacher in a remote village in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains.
After earning a law degree at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in 1989, he joined the foreign service with early postings in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel and Egypt.
Although Steven’s family moved away from western Nevada County, he often returned to the region to visit his grandparents, Elmer and Marguerite Stevens, his father, Jan Stevens, told The Union in a previous interview.
“Chris loved Nevada County. He spent many happy days swimming in the Yuba (River), skiing at Donner Summit, jogging the trails and hiking with us,” said Jan Stevens. “It was a formative part of his life. I think he felt a bond to Nevada County, an identity, and really appreciated the history and had ancestors who were part of the community.”
Stevens was laid to rest on Nov. 23 at a family plot in Grass Valley. His mother’s family still maintains a home in the Nevada City area and the City of Grass Valley is vying to name its largest capital improvement project in honor of the slain emissary.
Commanday said that the family has avoided commenting on diplomatic security leading up to the attack that killed his stepson.
“We have always totally avoided this discussion about the adequacy, inadequacy, blame, whatever, of the situation that happened because we only know what we read in the paper and we have no privileged information,” Commanday said in a telephone interview.
“We have no role in this. We are victims.”
When reached by email Wednesday, Jan Stevens indicated that Commanday’s comments reflect his own.
— The Union’s Matthew Renda and the Associated Press’ Garance Burke contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236; Matthew Renda email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.