The Cable

In Final Report, Benghazi Committee Finds No New Evidence of Clinton Wrongdoing

Neither of the dueling reports from the Democrats or Republicans had new revelations about Clinton's culpability, but they'll re-inject the issue into the 2016 campaign.

Benghazi

After spending more than two years and an estimated $7 million in taxpayer money, the House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final report on the terrorist attack in Libya in 2012 that left four Americans dead — and found no new evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at fault.

Republicans on the committee raced to put out their 800-plus-page report a day after Democrats on the committee preempted it with their own 339-page version and weeks ahead of both parties’ conventions, ensuring that the political back-and-forth over the Benghazi attack and Clinton’s role in it would stay a fixture in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Democrats say that the Republican side, led by chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R-S.C.), repeatedly refused requests to be involved in drafting the report and didn’t inform them of the rollout.

“As for the Democrats, color me shocked that they are critical,” Gowdy said in a Tuesday press conference following the report’s release. He repeatedly resisted questions from the press about whether Clinton was at fault for the attack, or had deceived the American public, saying the report simply laid out the facts to allow the public to draw its own conclusions. “Their report mentions her name far more than our report does,” he said, referring to the Democrats’ study.

Asked about bumper stickers and buttons with the grim tagline, “Clinton lied, people died” that emerged in the wake of the attacks, Gowdy responded, “You don’t see that t-shirt on me and you’ve never seen that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles.”

And yet shortly after the at-times heated press conference, Republican National Committee Reince Priebus seemed to make the opposite point.

Priebus said the report made clear Clinton and the administration of President Barack Obama “engaged in a politically-motivated cover up.” On initial reports that a video disparaging Islam had provoked the attack, he said Clinton “shamefully peddled this false narrative,” calling it a “disqualifying act of deception.”

“Hillary Clinton was in charge, knew the risks and did nothing,” Priebus said. “The report’s findings make clear we cannot afford to let Hillary Clinton be our next commander-in-chief.”

Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in a campaign stop in Denver on Tuesday, “I think it is pretty clear it is time to move on.”

“[The committee] had to today report it had found nothing,” she continued, adding, “So while this unfortunately took on a partisan tinge, I want us to stay focused on what I’ve always wanted us to stay focused on and that is the important work of diplomacy and development … We cannot withdraw or retreat from the world.”

Democrats allege Gowdy and his fellow Republicans have used the panel to engage in a partisan witch hunt of Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, in order to hurt her chances in November.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of dragging its feet in responding to requests, and the Democrats of being more concerned with protecting Clinton’s candidacy than they are of getting to the bottom of the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The Republicans’ report, which included interviews with 80 new witnesses and tens of thousands of pages of documents, did not find evidence of wrongdoing. It reaffirmed the finding of previous investigations that security gaps were obvious, and that U.S. military forces stationed elsewhere couldn’t have reached Benghazi in time to save their lives. Like previous reports, it is highly critical of not only the State Department, but also the Defense Department and CIA, for not heeding warnings about the worsening security situation in Libya.

Yet even within the Republican majority, there was some disagreement, at least in approach — two conservative members of the panel wrote a nearly 50-page addendum to the report drawing more critical conclusions regarding the Obama administration’s response.

The investigations have dogged Clinton’s presidential prospects, in particular due to the inadvertent discovery by the panel that she used a private email server during her tenure at the State Department. An agency investigation into that setup and whether classified information was mishandled is ongoing.

And yet, the panel’s grueling all-day interrogation of Clinton in October — colored by shouting matches between Gowdy and the committee’s Democratic ranking member, Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.) — seemed to backfire, giving Clinton a boost.

The report’s issue Tuesday is unlikely to bring closure, but rather, is likely to fan the flames between Clinton and rival Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Both Trump and Clinton have attacked each other on national security, both claiming that the other fails the commander in chief test.

Trump in particular has focused on Clinton’s record on Libya, a strategy Benghazi committee member Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio), summed up Tuesday.

“Libya was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Clinton administration foreign policy and the Obama administration foreign policy,” he said. “No boots on the ground, protect the Arab Spring.”

Effectively: Look how that turned out.

Now the full committee must formally vote to accept the report, after which it would be sent to the House and entered into the legislative record. Gowdy, who must give three-days’ notice for the vote, has set a meeting for July 8. With the Republicans in the majority on the committee, the report is likely to be accepted, though the Democrats would be permitted to include their version as “minority views.”

According to a tentative schedule, the House will only be in session for nine more legislative days before recessing July 15 — meaning that the committee vote and the formal introduction of the report to the record would occur just before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18-21, and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia the week after.

Read the Republican report.

Read the Democratic report.

 

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB / Staff

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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