GOP report faults State, Clinton for Benghazi
WASHINGTON — An interim report by House Republicans faults the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for security deficiencies at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the deadly terrorist attack in September that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Senior State Department officials, including Clinton, approved reductions in security at the facilities in Benghazi, according to the report by GOP members of five House committees. The report cites an April 19, 2012, cable bearing Clinton's signature acknowledging a March 28, 2012, request from then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz for more security, yet allowing further reductions.
“Senior State Department officials knew that the threat environment in Benghazi was high and that the Benghazi compound was vulnerable and unable to withstand an attack, yet the department continued to systematically withdraw security personnel,” the report said.
Release of the report occurs as dozens of House Republicans separately have pushed for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to establish a select committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
The top Democrats on the five committees were quick to criticize the GOP report, telling Boehner in a letter on Tuesday that they strongly objected to the report and their exclusion from the investigation. They called the GOP's findings a “partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi” that dispensed with House procedures “for vetting official committee reports to correct inaccuracies and mischaracterizations.”
The report also is highly critical of President Obama and White House staff. In the days after the attack, White House and senior State Department officials altered what the report said were accurate “talking points” about the attack drafted by the U.S. intelligence community to protect the State Department. But also what has been questioned is why the president, Clinton or anyone from Defense or State did not message the embassy after calls for help.
And even later, no one inquired to find what the status of personnel was during or after the attack.
Contrary to what the administration claimed, the alterations were not made to protect classified information. “Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior administration officials,” according to the 43-page report.
The talking points cost Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, an opportunity to replace Clinton as secretary of State. Less than a week after the attack, Rice used the talking points to say on a series of Sunday talk show interviews that the raid may have been a protest that got out of hand. Republicans blasted Rice over her initial comments about the attacks and she later asked for her name to be removed from consideration to head the State Department.
In December, senior State Department officials acknowledged major weaknesses in security and errors in judgment that had been revealed in a scathing independent report on the deadly assault. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides admitted that serious management and leadership failures left the mission in Benghazi woefully unprepared for the terrorist attack.
The report from the House committees is the latest broadside in what has been a long-running and acrimonious dispute between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans who have challenged the White House's actions before and after the Benghazi attack.
House and Senate Republicans for weeks fought for access to information about the attack and used the nominations of two key Obama administration national security officials — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA Director John Brennan — as leverage to obtain internal documents about the raid.
The Benghazi raid resonated during the presidential campaign as the Obama administration struggled in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election to tamp down speculation of a cover-up involving the Benghazi attack.
Obama, in his role as commander in chief, failed to anticipate the significance that Sept. 11 held as a date and did not provide the Defense Department with the authority for missions beyond self-defense, according to the report.