For Clinton, Benghazi report has some good, mostly bad — but no ugly

Republicans hoping that the Senate intelligence committee's new Benghazi report would expose former secretary of state (and potential 2016 presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton's errors once and for all will be sorely disappointed.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in January 2013. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Indeed, as I noted in my summary over on Post Politics, the report only mentions Clinton once -- and it comes in the section where Republicans on the panel got a chance to weigh in.

But the report is still going to be fodder for Republicans moving forward, particularly as the GOP presses Clinton's failures on Benghazi in the runup to the 2016 presidential election. And, by contrast, there are also a couple findings that will help Clinton.

First, the good for Republicans: The report is very hard on the State Department, noting that there were numerous warning signs leading up to the attack that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead, and that State repeatedly declined or failed to bolster security at the mission in Benghazi. Most notably, it says that the attack was "preventable."

The p-word -- "preventable" -- is what stings most for Clinton. The report says, conclusively, that State's failures contributed to the deaths of four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. And Republicans can and will say that people died because of those failures.

At the same time, the report doesn't detail whether any of these warnings or requests actually reached Clinton's desk. Had it done so, then she really would have been in trouble. While Clinton was, ultimately, the buck-stopper at State, she is more able to distance herself from the problems identified by the Senate report if it doesn't specify that she was directly aware of them.

That's part of the good news for Democrats and Clinton. The other part is that the report denies any notion of an administration "cover-up" of the events that night.

You'll remember that for months after the attack, Republicans questioned why administration officials characterized the circumstances of the attack incorrectly -- saying it was spontaneous rather than planned  -- and why they stuck to those talking points even after it became clear to intelligence officials that they weren't accurate.

The report doesn't offer a whole lot of detail on how the talking points evolved, but the Democrats on the panel do say (emphasis mine): "The majority concludes that the interagency coordination process on the talking points followed normal, but rushed coordination procedures and that there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes."

Ultimately, the report leaves us in about the same spot we were before in two respects:

1) Republicans have a whole bunch of material to argue that the State Department messed up, big time. They will say Clinton is ultimately responsible for this, and Democrats will counter that nothing directly ties those failures to Clinton.

2) Democrats will continue to say that there is no evidence of a cover-up, and Republicans will dismiss that finding by pointing out that only Democrats on the committee signed on to that particular statement. They'll also note that the report doesn't dwell on the "cover-up" question all that much.

Republicans continue to believe Benghazi will hurt Clinton if she runs in 2016, and they're almost definitely right. But the question is just how much, and today's report probably doesn't move the needle as far as the GOP would have liked.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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