- Republican-led panel questions judgement of Democratic nominee
- Committee raises questions about Pentagon response to attack
A House Republican report faulted the Obama administration for mishandling Libya policy and its response to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, but offered no significant new revelations about the role played by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
As secretary of state, Clinton should have recognized that extremists posed a risk to U.S. officials in Libya before the attacks that killed four Americans, according to the politically charged report released Tuesday by a committee that has been looking into the Obama administration’s handling of the incident. It came less than a month before the Democratic National Convention.
The 800-page report reveals some new details about the incident, including that before the attacks Clinton planned to visit Libya in October 2012 and that officials at a White House meeting on the night of the assault seemed more concerned with Libyan sensitivities to a U.S. troop deployment than attempting an immediate rescue. But the committee chairman said he wants the American public to draw their own conclusions about administration accountability.
“When the Select Committee was formed, I promised to conduct this investigation in a manner worthy of the American people’s respect, and worthy of the memory of those who died. That is exactly what my colleagues and I have done,” Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who headed the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said in a statement. “Now, I simply ask the American people to read this report for themselves, look at the evidence we have collected, and reach their own conclusions.”
The Benghazi panel was created in May 2014 to investigate attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA outpost on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed the Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. But it’s been beset by partisan accusations that House Republicans were using their political positions to spend two years and $7 million in taxpayer money to attack their political foes. The episode continues to echo as an issue in Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The report says Stevens traveled to Benghazi in September 2012, in part because Clinton had planned an October trip to Libya and he wanted to have a “deliverable” for Clinton’s trip. Establishing a permanent Consulate in Benghazi, despite concerns over security, was seen as an accomplishment to be announced on her visit, the report found.
The intelligence available suggested that an attack in Benghazi was possible and Clinton and a top aide, Patrick Kennedy, should have realized the risks posed to the diplomatic mission there, the Republican report concluded.
But the report also underscored the ambassador’s own role. “Stevens was adamant” about making a trip to Benghazi in September, it said.
The report is sure to rekindle Republican accusations in the remaining months of the presidential race that Clinton is to blame for security lapses leading to the deadly attack. Democrats on the committee say that Clinton did nothing improper. They released their own findings Monday saying that they expected the final report to be a politically motivated attack on Clinton.
The Democratic report accuses Gowdy of conducting the investigation “like an overzealous prosecutor desperately trying to land a front-page conviction rather than a neutral judge of facts seeking to improve the security of our diplomatic corps.”
Clinton dismissed the panel’s report and said the government has worked to “learn the right lessons from this tragedy.”
The committee found “nothing, nothing to contradict the conclusions of the independent accountability board or the prior multiple earlier investigations” by congressional panels, she said Tuesday after a campaign event in Denver.
"I’ll leave it to others to characterize this report but I think it’s pretty clear it’s time to move on," she added.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a June 22 speech that Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.” The attack actually unfolded during the daytime and early evening in the U.S., and Clinton was involved in discussing how the U.S. could respond.
The Benghazi Committee report examines whether the Obama administration misled the public about the events in Benghazi and fully cooperated with congressional investigators. It also discusses Clinton’s role and accountability for inadequate security at the outposts and why the administration didn’t dispatch a force to Benghazi to help. The Defense Department has maintained that emergency aid was too far away to arrive on time, and the committee account confirmed that.
While acknowledging that military leaders in Washington spoke about the need to prepare for an attack and ordered responses once it began, the report suggested there were numerous failures of readiness and execution by the Pentagon.
"When the attacks in Benghazi began, the Defense Department was unprepared to respond," the report said. The response "at best illustrates a rusty bureaucratic process not in keeping with the gravity and urgency of the events happening on the ground."
At a two-hour meeting at the White House, attended by Clinton and top State Department officials as the attack was unfolding, administration officials spent time discussing how to show deference to Libyan sensitivities rather than how to mount the most aggressive rescue mission, according to the report.
It quotes summaries of the White House meeting as saying that "Libya must agree to any deployment" -- a declaration the report said was at odds with later testimony to the committee by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
A force that would have gone into Libya changed into and out of their uniforms four times while waiting to go because of sensitivity about an American intervention, the report found. Discussions during the meeting also focused on an offensive YouTube video and whether to deploy troops to the capital in Tripoli or to Benghazi.
Neither the president nor Panetta was present at the meeting. The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have participated, but he went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries, the report found.
"Washington had access to real-time information, but that real-time information did not inform and instruct the decisions made in Washington," Gowdy said at a news conference Tuesday.
The Defense Department said Tuesday that the timeline of events has been well known for a while and that the U.S. military helped evacuate all those wounded in the attack.
“Even though, as the select committee’s chairman has previously acknowledged, it was impossible for the U.S. military to have changed the outcome at Benghazi under the circumstances, the department has made substantial changes to improve our responsiveness based on lessons learned from this incident," Gordon Trowbridge, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
Since the Benghazi attack, the Marine Corps has set up a quick-reaction force in the Middle East for missions such as embassy evacuations.
Several Republicans said one of the more troubling aspects relates to the administration’s broad objectives in Libya.
“It remains unclear why a State Department presence in Benghazi was so important,” Republican committee members Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Pompeo of Kansas wrote in a separate "Additional Views" analysis.
“No matter how important a presence was -- to Secretary Clinton, to the State Department, to the United States -- it should have become very clear that the risks of staying without more security outweighed any possible benefit.”
As for actions taken during the attacks, Jordan and Pompeo’s report adds, "We cannot say with certainty that our nation’s leaders did not move heaven and earth to send military help with the urgency that those Americans deserved. We will never know if a more vigorous, comprehensive and urgent response could have saved lives."
The Benghazi committee’s probe is one of eight that Congress has conducted into the incident in addition to an Accountability Board investigation that Clinton herself set up after the attack.
Previous investigations have criticized the State Department for inadequate security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi and intelligence sharing flaws before the attack, but largely place the blame further down the chain than Clinton. The House Intelligence Committee in 2014 rejected the idea of a cover-up by the Obama administration.
Panel Republicans have responded to criticism of their work by saying they have looked at issues that go far beyond Clinton and her actions. Still, there are clear differences among Republicans on whether Clinton should be blamed directly for the events that led to the deaths.
Pompeo called Clinton’s leadership "morally reprehensible." He said during a news conference that "you have every right to be disgusted" by the response from her and others, which he added includes misleading the public.
Gowdy responded that no such language is contained in the report. Pressed if he believed Clinton lied, Gowdy responded, "You don’t see that T-shirt on me, you haven’t seen that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles."
The State Department said it provided more than 50 current and former employees for interviews and over 100,000 pages of documents to the committee.
"The essential facts surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi have been known for some time," the department said in a statement, adding that "we have made great progress towards making our posts safer since 2012."