Benghazi Committee Report Uncovers Mistakes, But No Wrongdoing
As with each previous committee that investigated the 2012 attack on the U.S outpost in Benghazi, the House Select Committee finds that mistakes were made but no evidence of wrongdoing or cover-ups.
The House Select Committee investigating the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others released its final report today after more than two years of investigation and witness interviews that came to a head last October with the day-long questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the most part, the report found the same things that all of the previous investigation of this matter have found, namely that while there were several mistakes made in connection with the attack, including apparent and puzzling failures by the Defense Department to carry out orders given by the President and the Secretary of Defense, there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing or a cover-up, and nothing that appears to implicate Clinton herself in any such wrong doing. Indeed, the summaries of the more than 800 page report seem to substantiate what Clinton and the State Department have been saying about the events of that night in 2012:
WASHINGTON — Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.
The 800-page report, however, included some new details about the night of the attacks, and the context in which it occurred, and it delivered a broad rebuke of government agencies like the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department — and the officials who led them — for failing to grasp the acute security risks in Benghazi, and especially for maintaining outposts in there that they could not protect.
The committee, led by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, also harshly criticized an internal State Department investigation that it said had allowed officials like Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, to effectively choose who would investigate their actions. In addition, it reiterated Republicans’ complaints that the Obama administration had sought to thwart the investigation by withholding witnesses and evidence.
The report, which includes perhaps the most exhaustive chronology to date of the attacks and their aftermath, did not dispute that United States military forces stationed in Europe could not have reached Benghazi in time to rescue the personnel who died — a central finding of previous inquiries.
Still, it issued stinging criticism of the overall delay in response and the lack of preparedness on the part of the government.
“The assets ultimately deployed by the Defense Department in response to the Benghazi attacks were not positioned to arrive before the final lethal attack,” the committee wrote. “The fact that this is true does not mitigate the question of why the world’s most powerful military was not positioned to respond.”
But the lack of any clear-cut finding of professional misconduct or dereliction of duty was certain to fuel further criticism of the length the investigation — more than two years — and the expense, estimated at more than $7 million, in addition to Democrats’ allegations that the inquiry was specifically intended to damage Mrs. Clinton’s presidential prospects.
The previous investigations had concluded that State Department officials had erred in not better securing the diplomatic compound amid reports of a deteriorating security situation. But the inquiries also determined that the attacks had come with little warning and that it would have been difficult to intervene once they had begun.
The investigations generally concluded that after the attack, the Obama administration’s talking points — a matter of much dispute — were flawed but not deliberately misleading.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department information officer, were killed in an attack on the main American diplomatic compound in Benghazi by a mob of militia fighters who had been incited by an American-made video deriding the Prophet Muhammad. The fighters were apparently further inflamed by news of an assault on the American Embassy in Cairo.
Two other Americans, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, who were contractors for the C.I.A., died later when a separate annex run by the agency came under mortar attack.
Previous investigations, including the internal inquiry by the State Department, found serious security gaps but also concluded that American forces could not have reached Benghazi in time to save the Americans, despite claims by some Republicans that Mrs. Clinton had ordered troops to “stand down.”
At the time the select committee was created, in addition to the State Department’s review, there had been at least seven other congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks. A House Intelligence Committee investigation, perhaps the most comprehensive until now, found that Obama administration officials had not intentionally misled the public with their talking points in the days after the attacks.
The release of the final report that will likely be approved by the Republican majority within a week or two came a day after the Democratic minority on the committee released its own report, which emphasized the fact that the committee had not found anything of substance about the attacks that had not been found by any of the previous reports and investigations and that it had not found any evidence of wrongdoing by Secretary Clinton specifically. Most prominently, though, the Democratic report repeats the allegations that Chairman Trey Gowdy had long been cutting Democratic Committee members out of the investigation process and accusing Committee Republicans of being more concerned with finding evidence of wrongdoing that would harm Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in the fall than uncovering the factors that led to the tragic loss of life in Benghazi and how such an event might be prevented in the future.
WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Monday moved to pre-empt the findings of a two-year Republican-led investigation into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, by issuing their own 339-page report that cast the inquiry as a politically motivated crusade that wasted time and money.
The release of the Democrats’ report came amid signs that the House Select Committee on Benghazi, led by its chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, was nearing the release of its official findings.
In the face of intense criticism, Mr. Gowdy has repeatedly defended the committee’s work as the most comprehensive examination of the attacks in Benghazi, which occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, and resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens; a State Department official, Sean Smith; and two Central Intelligence Agency contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty.
In recent days, the committee has reiterated longstanding complaints about lack of cooperation with the investigation by the Obama administration, including a statement by Mr. Gowdy on Monday citing obstruction by the State Department. The committee has also cited the refusal by the White House to have President Obama respond to written questions.
“For nearly a year and a half, the State Department has withheld documents and information about Benghazi and Libya from the American people’s elected representatives in Congress,” Mr. Gowdy said in the statement. “Whatever the administration is hiding, its justifications for doing so are imaginary and appear to be invented for the sake of convenience. That’s not how complying with a congressional subpoena works, and it’s well past time the department stops stonewalling.”
In their counternarrative, the Democrats serving on the House Select Committee said they had been virtually shut out of the process of developing the report, and they accused their Republican counterparts of trying to besmirch Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, who was secretary of state during the Benghazi attack.
“Section II of our report documents the grave abuses that Select Committee Republicans engaged in during this investigation,” the Democrats wrote. “Republicans excluded Democrats from interviews, concealed exculpatory evidence, withheld interview transcripts, leaked inaccurate information, issued unilateral subpoenas, sent armed marshals to the home of a cooperative witness and even conducted political fund-raising by exploiting the deaths of four Americans.”
The Democrats also singled out Mr. Gowdy for criticism. “In our opinion, Chairman Gowdy has been conducting this 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,” they wrote.
The Democrats’ report included praise for American personnel in Benghazi and Tripoli, the Libyan capital, saying they “conducted themselves with extraordinary courage and heroism,” and determined that the American personnel could not have saved the four who died.
The report includes some criticism: “The State Department’s security measures in Benghazi were woefully inadequate as a result of decisions made by officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” But it absolves Ms. Clinton of responsibility, adding, “Secretary Clinton never personally denied any requests for additional security in Benghazi.”
The Democrats accused the Republicans of spending more than $7 million on an investigation that they argued would not reveal any substantially new information that would alter the understanding of events as described in multiple previous inquiries.
The Republicans sharply dismissed the report, turning the main Democratic criticism around — saying that they were overly focused on Mrs. Clinton.
“Benghazi Committee Democrats’ obsession with the former secretary of state is on full display,” the committee’s press secretary, Matt Wolking, said in a statement, which also accused the Democrats of issuing “rehashed, partisan talking points defending their endorsed candidate for president.”
The majority report and its various addenda can be read online as can the Democrats’ report and while both reports are long, the summaries reviewed to date clearly indicate that we’ve learned nothing new from this investigation regarding the attack itself or Washington’s response to the attack notwithstanding another two years of investigation and tens of millions of dollars. In the nearly four years since the attacks, there have been numerous investigations about what happened that night in Benghazi, as well as the response before and after the attacks, as well as concerns involving the response of the Defense Department, the question of why there was no military response to the attack, and issues involving security at embassies and other diplomatic outposts. Prior to the time that the Select Committee was even formed, at least five separate Congressional committees have investigated the matter, including the House Intelligence Committee, and none of them have found any evidence of wrongdoing or impropriety. The questions regarding the Administration’s initial reliance on the claim that the attack was motivated by an obscure YouTube video now seems in retrospect to have been motivated largely by the CIA’s initial assessments in the days after the attacks, but the fact that the story was being spread in the midst of a highly partisan election led many to the conclusion that it was part of some kind of cover-up even though there is no evidence of the same. Despite all of that, though, Republicans on Capitol Hill were not satisfied with the investigations that had been conducted so far, and were certainly not satisfied with the answers Clinton had given in previous testimony. As a result, a Select Committee was formed in the House, and a new investigation was launched. Now, after two years we know that the Select Committee uncovered nothing new regarding any of the issues surrounding the attack, and the committee’s investigation is looking even more political than it seemed to be at the beginning.
From the start, the Select Committee was subject to the charges that the Committee’s investigation was more a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton in advance of the 2016 elections than an objective search for the truth about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 and how the State Department responded both to the attack and the reports about threats to Americans in the city and elsewhere in Libya. Those charges, of course, were seemingly confirmed by the way that the investigation unfolded. From the start, the Committee seemed uninterested in conducting its investigation in an expeditious manner. This was seemingly confirmed when the committee made clear early on that a final report should not be expected before 2016, conveniently in the middle of the Presidential campaign. Additionally, the seeming partisan motivation behind the committee was acknowledged in comments by Majority Leaders Kevin McCarthy and New York Congressman Richard Hanna, both of whom had said that the committee’s purpose was primarily political rather than investigatory, comments which earned a rebuke from Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy. Indeed, in a poll taken just before the committee sat to question Hillary Clinton herself, CNN and ORC found that nearly three-quarters of Americans believed that the committee was largely a partisan political exercise rather than an objective search for the truth. The fact that this report doesn’t seem to tell us anything we didn’t already know adds weight to the allegations of partisanship, and seems likely to minimize whatever impact it may have on the race for President itself.
None of this is to say that the report didn’t find things that went wrong leading up to the attack and while it was unfolding. The fact that there apparently were no deploy-able military assets available that could have gotten to Benghazi in time to have an impact on the attack, for example, raises the question of why this was the case, especially given the fact that it has generally been common practice to increase security at U.S. outposts in the Middle East generally during the period around the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It’s also still not entirely clear why the Benghazi outpost was kept open even as American allies such as Great Britain were closing their facilities in Benghazi due to the deteriorating security conditions there. Finally, there are a whole host of questions that go to the entire logic behind American policy in Libya dating back to the beginning of the civil war that led to the downfall of the Gaddafi regime and, especially, the decision to join France and Great Britain in aiding rebels of questionable motivation. The Select Committee’s report doesn’t touch on those issues, though, and doesn’t really make any recommendations for changes in policy that either could have prevented the attack or made it more likely that Ambassador Stevens and the three bodyguards would have survived the attack that night.
The big question, of course, is the impact that this report may have on the race for President. Honestly, given the fact that the majority of Americans seem to have written the committee off as a partisan political exercise, though, it seems as though it is unlikely to have much of an impact at all. Republicans will continue to believe that there is some unspecified cover-up of what happened on that September night in Benghazi and Democrats will emphasize the fact that, once again, an investigation has failed to reveal any nefarious actions by Secretary Clinton or anyone close to her. For most Americans, though, this will likely be filed away as just another partisan dispute that has no real impact on their lives. What perhaps does matter the most, though, is that a committee that was established with the obvious although unstated mission of uncovering something that would harm Hillary Clinton has once again come up short. To that extent, then, you can score this as a loss for House Republicans and another good day for Secretary Clinton.