Evidence collected by the House Select Committee on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, confirms that Defense Department actions could not have saved the lives of four Americans killed, that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was actively “engaged” and responsive during the attack and that no one in the Obama administration lied about what happened, according to a report issued Monday by committee Democrats.
Release of the 344-page report was a preemptive strike against the Republican majority’s version of the results of the two-year investigation into the assault on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
In a different accounting of events, a Republican-drafted committee report highlighted what it called breakdowns in the chain of command that kept U.S. military forces from reaching Benghazi until the day after the attack, according to NBC News, which obtained a portion of the report before its public release later Tuesday.
The GOP report said then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had ordered forces to Benghazi, but none “had even left the ground” by the time of the final siege on the U.S. compounds, NBC reported. It also questioned the level of security for Stevens and suggested U.S. officials misunderstood the various factions in Libya at the time, NBC said.
Reacting to reported details of the Republican report, the State Department deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, issued a statement that suggested no important new details have emerged. Toner also said that U.S. officials have followed recommendations on security on other matters made by an oversight panel more than three years ago.
“The essential facts surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi have been known for some time,” Toner said in a statement.
He added: “We have made great progress towards making our posts safer since 2012. We have been working to respond to the extensive findings and recommendations of the independent Accountability Review Board, closing out 26 out of its 29 recommendations.”
The Democrat’s minority report, meanwhile, said the committee “obtained no credible evidence that any Administration official made intentionally misleading statements about the attacks.” Instead, the panel “squandered millions of taxpayer dollars in a partisan effort to attack a presidential candidate.”
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), has said the majority report will not focus overwhelmingly on Clinton. But it is expected to conclude that the Obama administration, for political reasons, intentionally misrepresented the facts about the attacks.
“We know we were lied to,” Gowdy said before the investigation began.
In a campaign speech last week, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump repeated a claim he had made previously, saying that Clinton’s decisions as secretary of state “spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched. Among the victims was our late ambassador Chris Stevens. I mean, what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.”
The committee inquiry, which followed investigations by an independent State Department panel and the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, has been marked by partisan sniping and bad faith. Since early this year — as it became apparent they would not agree on a single report — the two sides have barely been on speaking terms and have communicated through a series of increasingly nasty news releases.
Gowdy has charged the State and Defense departments with withholding information and documents.
The minority report said that 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 fundraising by exploiting the deaths of four Americans.”
“In our opinion,” it said, “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.”
The GOP majority, in a statement issued by press secretary Matt Wolking, described the “Democrats’ so-called ‘report’ ” as “rehashed, partisan talking points defending their endorsed candidate for president” and said the Republican version would include “new information.”
In addition to the ranking minority-party member, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Democrats on the committee include Reps. Adam Smith (Wash.), Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), Linda T. Sánchez (Calif.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.)
The Democratic findings were largely in sync with previous investigations. “Although the Select committee obtained additional details that provide context and granularity, these details do not fundamentally alter the previous conclusions,” the report said.
Republicans have repeatedly charged the administration with issuing intentionally misleading reports in the days immediately following the attacks about the motivation for them. Previously unreleased excerpts from intelligence reports, contained in the Democratic document, indicate an early consensus — which ultimately turned out to be incorrect — that the initial attack began with a demonstration to protest an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube.
Like previous reports, the minority investigation concluded that the U.S. military was ill-positioned to respond quickly to the attacks, saying it “could not have done anything differently on the night of the attacks that would have saved the lives of the four brave Americans.”
The report also concluded, as have earlier investigations, that no one outside of Libya gave an order for a rescue attempt to “stand down.” Security contractors at the CIA annex have said that once the attack on the diplomatic facility started, they were ordered by superiors on the ground to delay launching a rescue attempt for Stevens and State Department communications specialist Sean Smith, who later were determined to have died there of smoke inhalation after locking themselves in a “safe room” while the attackers set the compound on fire.
The deaths of two others, CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, occurred several hours later when militants launched a mortar attack at the nearby CIA compound.
The committee interviewed the annex base chief, his deputy and the head of security at the facility. Notified that an attack was underway at the diplomatic facility about a mile away, the three of them talked quickly about how to respond. When asked whether they should mount a rescue, the base chief said “Absolutely.”
One of three told the committee: “Anybody writing any books or making movies, or whatever else, I can tell you none of those guys were in the room when that discussion occurred.” Several of the surviving contractors later wrote a book, “13 Hours,” that was the basis for a movie released last year.
The minority report described security measures at the Benghazi diplomatic compound that were “woefully inadequate” and blamed the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security with failing to respond to requests for additional staffing.
“Contrary to repeated Republican claims,” it said, “not a single witness we spoke to identified any evidence that Secretary Clinton personally denied security requests in Benghazi,” a charge it noted that five Republican House committee chairmen have made in the past.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.