Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was planning to visit Libya in 2012, but those plans were upended when terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11 and 12 of that year, according to newly revealed testimony given to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is set to release its highly anticipated report Tuesday.
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in the attacks along with three other Americans, told then-Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks in July 2012 that Clinton wanted to visit Libya again, perhaps in October, according to Hicks’s testimony to the committee. Stevens told Hicks that he wanted to have a “deliverable” to announce if and when Clinton came to Libya, namely that the temporary U.S. mission to Benghazi would be made into a permanent U.S. diplomatic facility.
The detail, which Hicks also told another House investigation in 2013, is one of the key issues Republicans are focusing on in the several-hundred-page report the Benghazi committee is releasing Tuesday. After spending the better part of two years and more than $7 million, the panel headed by Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is under pressure to show that its investment of time and taxpayer money was not wasted. Following several other investigations into the attacks, there’s not much left to know, but Republicans plan to highlight whatever new nuggets of information they can.
For Clinton, all news about the Benghazi attacks is bad news. The report details Clinton’s actions on the afternoon and night of the attacks, and Republicans plan to argue that she, along with other top Obama administration officials, failed to mount a robust and coordinated response while terrorists stormed the Benghazi mission and a nearby CIA annex. Though these are allegations that Clinton has fended off several times before, their resurgence with some new information will uncomfortably bring her worst night as secretary of state back to the fore of the presidential campaign.
Republicans see the revelation that Clinton was planning a trip to Libya and that Stevens wanted to make the Benghazi mission permanent as evidence that she was trying to cement her legacy as a major proponent of the intervention to topple Moammar Gaddafi, but ignored several signs that the facility was unsafe.
“It remains unclear why a State Department presence in Benghazi was so important,” two Republican committee members, Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mike Pompeo (Kan.), wrote in their own summary of the lengthy report. “No matter how important a presence was — to Secretary Clinton, to the State Department, to the United States — it should have become very clear that the risks of staying without more security outweighed any possible benefit.”
Clinton has said many times that she did not personally deny any requests for more security in Benghazi; those decisions were made by lower-level State Department personnel. Republicans on the Benghazi committee argue that given Clinton’s keen interest in Benghazi and her plans to visit Libya, she should have taken action to respond to the dangerous conditions there.
Jordan and Pompeo point to an Aug. 17, 2012, memo from Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, sent to Clinton, which warned of deteriorating security conditions and overall “lawlessness” in eastern Libya, including a spike in bombings, abductions, assassinations and carjackings.
When Clinton was asked about the Jones memo by the committee, she said: “There was no recommendation based on any of the assessments, not from our State Department experts, not from the Intelligence Community, that we should abandon either Benghazi or Tripoli.”
That perceived lack of response to the growing dangers in Benghazi, set against Clinton’s desire to travel to Libya and make Benghazi a permanent facility, makes Clinton culpable in the tragedy that followed, according to Jordan and Pompeo.
“She had the last, clear chance to order an immediate closure of the Benghazi facility yet she did nothing, and four Americans died,” they wrote.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment about the report.
The Benghazi report will also seek to lay out a timeline of interactions among Clinton, President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus that Republicans say shows a lack of communication and coordination at the highest levels of government while the attacks were underway.
Donald Trump’s claim that Clinton was sleeping when the call about the attacks came through is not accurate, the committee confirms in its investigation. But the panel does report that although the first attack began at 3:42 p.m. Eastern, Clinton did not speak to President Obama until over six hours later.
Clinton did not talk directly with Panetta even once on the night of the attacks, according to Jordan and Pompeo’s summary of the committee report. Panetta met with Obama at about 5:30 p.m. for half an hour and had no further contact with the president. Clinton spoke with Petraeus at 5:38 p.m., but only once.
Jordan and Pompeo wrote that senior officials should have been in the same room dealing with the ongoing crisis, as they were during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011. “Benghazi should have merited the same level of urgency,” they wrote.
The Democratic members of the Benghazi committee dealt with the allegation that Clinton wasn’t active and engaged on the night of the attack in their own 300-plus-page report, released Monday. They laid out a timeline of Clinton’s other activities that night, beyond just her calls with other top officials.
Clinton was engaged in near-constant calls and other interactions with a host of U.S. and foreign officials, including several calls with national security adviser Susan Rice, the Libyan president, and officials on the ground, including Hicks. She was the only Cabinet official to participate in a secure video conference call in which representatives from various agencies discussed the response in the early evening.
“Senior officials have uniformly testified that they were doing everything possible to provide emergency assistance to those under the attack,” Democratic committee member Adam Schiff (Calif.) told me. “The most Republicans can do is try to critique the secretary’s actions on that day because they have nothing else left to go after.”
Schiff also rejected another supposed revelation that Republicans on the committee will focus on this week. The Republican report purports to reveal that no military assets were sent toward Libya until the attacks had ended. Although Panetta ordered the deployment of a Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team, or FAST, those assets were sent to Tripoli and no military assets were sent to Benghazi, the report alleges.
“Nothing in the Republican spin changes the underlying facts,” said Schiff. “Nothing has disturbed the conclusions of the bipartisan House Armed Services Committee investigation that no military assets could have gotten there in time.”
The Republican committee report will also seek to reaffirm long-standing accusations that Clinton lied about there being protests in Benghazi.
Though the Benghazi committee did find some new details, it failed to unearth anything so damning as to change many minds about the events of that tragic night, or who is to blame for them.