For supporters of Hillary Clinton like David Brock, this weekend’s exhaustive New York Times investigation into Benghazi wasn’t just a victory of truth over rumor-mongering. It was a victory for 2016.
The Times report, which went to great lengths to debunk GOP allegations about the mechanics and motivations behind last year’s attack, could blunt Republican criticisms of then-Secretary of State Clinton’s handling of the incident. Brock, a vocal member of the pro-Hillary caucus, wants to make sure you don’t miss the article.
"The New York Times report is exhaustive and thorough, and replaces hearsay and downright lies with facts and perspective," Brock, the chairman of the American Bridge super PAC told The Cable. "The value is that it cuts through the politicization of this tragedy and empowers the American people with the truth about what transpired."
For the last several months, Brock’s group has committed itself to defending Clinton as a part of its Correct the Record project run with the help of Burns Strider, a former senior adviser to Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the White House. Brock says the Times article brings clarity to an incident he has previously accused the GOP of exploiting to "tarnish the reputation of Hillary Clinton as she mulled a 2016 presidential bid." A former conservative during the Clinton administration, Brock’s views shifted sharply to the left during the George W. Bush administration when he founded the liberal watchdog Media Matters.
The Times’ David Kirkpatrick spent months on the investigation which included interviews with more than a dozen witnesses and militia members. It finds that contrary to many allegations, and some testimonies by State Department officials, the attack was in part fueled by outrage over the American-made film The Innocence of Muslims, as the Obama administration initially suggested. The article also found that there is no evidence supporting al Qaeda’s role in the incident (although other Islamic militant groups sympathetic to Qaeda’s ideology were most certainly involved).
Republicans have long accused Clinton and the administration of downplaying the role of al Qaeda in an effort to boost the re-election prospects of President Obama. The administration maintained that it portrayed the terror network’s role as accurately as possible, a claim now bolstered by the Times.
But given the politically-charged nature of the report, the Grey Lady has now been thrust into the partisan battle.
On Monday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) accused the Times of using the investigation to improve Clinton’s electoral prospects. "I don’t know why [The Times] put it out unless it was for political reasons, but we thoroughly dispute that story as far as the link to al Qaeda," he told Fox News. "I think they are already laying the groundwork [for 2016]."
On Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) also questioned the Times’ motivations. "I find the timing odd," he said. "I find it interesting that there is this rollout of stories."
The Times apparently found those allegations so troubling that its editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal penned a blog post defending the paper’s independence.
"We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton. We have not chosen anyone," he wrote. "I can also state definitively that there was no editorial/newsroom conspiracy of any kind, because I knew nothing about the Benghazi article until I read it in the paper on Sunday."
The fact that the Times has become the target of GOP ire is unsurprising given how important the incident has become for many in the party. Both the GOP base and many of its leaders strenuously disapprove of Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attack and are well aware of her status as the most likely Democratic presidential nominee.
Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Ready for Hillary, a super PAC urging Clinton to run for president, said the the criticisms were telling. "Those who are spending all day, every day attacking Hillary are doing so because they are aware of the groundswell of support behind her," he said. He declined to weigh in on the article specifically.
Although a State Department review of the incident harshly criticized the department for relying on local militias to secure the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Republicans say the review failed to hold senior officials accountable for missing warning signs visible on the ground and in diplomatic cables. Republicans also dispute the Times report, insisting that Al Qaeda did have a role in the attack that has been made known in classified intelligence briefings to Congress. Given that some Democrats, such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), appear to agree with that point, it’s unlikely that the Benghazi debate will go away anytime soon. As a result, Clinton’s 2016 political apparatus won’t be hard-pressed to find work.