House Republicans charged Tuesday that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rejected a direct plea for additional security for U.S. diplomats in Libya before the fatal attack in Benghazi last year, which Republicans say contradicts her claim in congressional testimony that such requests did not come to her.
Five committees of the Republican-led House concluded in a new report on the attack that cuts in security measures in Libya were approved “at the highest levels of the State Department,” including in at least one instance by Clinton. The report cites an April 2012 internal State Department message, called a cable, bearing Clinton’s signature. The message acknowledged a formal request for the extension of a Marine Corps security detail in the country, but ordered that a planned withdrawal go ahead as planned, the Republican report says.
Many State Department cables routinely go out with the secretary of state’s name, and it was not immediately clear whether this one was personally written by Clinton.
Clinton testified in January that routine requests for security did not come directly to her and that she did not reject or approve them. She was not specifically questioned about the April 19 memo the Republicans cited, but was asked about the decision to withdraw some Marines last year over objection from State Department employees in Libya. She said that sort of request was handled well below her level.
The State Department has always maintained that the security measures in question would not have made a difference, mostly because the Marines were based hundreds of miles away in the capital, Tripoli. The Marines were a temporary security measure and were pulled partly because of cost concerns.
A spokesman for Clinton, who left the top State Department post shortly after testifying on Benghazi, referred questions to the White House.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the report “appears to raise questions that have already been asked and answered in great detail” by the administration. She noted that the State Department’s Accountability Review Board found that the interagency response was “timely and appropriate.”
The House Republicans say in their conclusion, “This progress report reveals a fundamental lack of understanding at the highest levels of the State Department as to the dangers presented in Benghazi, Libya, as well as a concerted attempt to insulate the Department of State from blame following the terrorist attacks.”
The 46-page report says there was ample intelligence about the threat of extremist attacks in Benghazi before the incident and asserts that State Department leaders and the White House failed to act. It exonerates the military and intelligence agencies, rejecting the notion that there was insufficient information available to predict and plan for an attack on the lightly defended Benghazi compound where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department employee Sean Smith died in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. Two CIA contractors died at a separate compound the same night.
The report, which has not been adopted by the full House, also concludes that the Obama administration deliberately changed the wording of “talking points” prepared by intelligence agencies in the days after the attack to omit or play down the potential connection to al-Qaeda or extremist groups in Libya. That is a long-standing charge from Republicans, and it became an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. The report offers few new details to back up that assertion but lays out the changes in wording and emphasis.
“The administration’s talking points were developed in a interagency process that focused more on protecting the reputation and credibility of the State Department than on explaining to the American people the facts surrounding the fatal attacks,” the report alleges.