A final report issued by the Republican-majority committee that investigated the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, found fault with virtually every element of the executive-branch response to the attacks but provided no new evidence of specific wrongdoing by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
A committee news release said the report “fundamentally changes the public’s understanding of the 2012 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans,” including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.
But while it contains voluminous additional details of what happened before, during and after the attacks on State Department and CIA compounds in Benghazi, the report’s overall narrative does not substantively differ from previous investigations, hearings and news accounts over the years.
For the most part, it describes what it says Clinton and other senior officials should have known and should have done, amid systemic failures across the administration’s national-security apparatus.
Release of the report Tuesday, the day after minority Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi separately published their own conclusions, is likely to draw additional criticism over the $7 million price tag for the two-year investigation.
Democrats called the inquiry a witch hunt, designed and dragged out by the GOP to coincide with and undermine Clinton’s presidential campaign. Begun in partisan acrimony, the exercise ended with the two sides not on speaking terms, refusing to sign each other’s reports or even share them before release.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who charged the Obama administration with delaying the committee’s work with a slow release of documents and other information, said in a statement accompanying the majority report that he had “promised to conduct this investigation in a manner worthy of the American people’s respect, and worthy of the memory of those who died. That is exactly what my colleagues and I have done.”
“I simply ask the American people to read this report for themselves, look at the evidence we have collected, and reach their own conclusions,” Rep. Gowdy said.
Clinton, at a campaign event in Denver, said the committee had “found nothing — nothing — to contradict” the findings of a State Department-named accountability board or previous congressional inquiries.
“So while this unfortunately took on a partisan tinge, I want us to stay focused on what I’ve always wanted us to stay focused on, which is the work of diplomacy and development,” she said.
“I’ll leave it to others to characterize this report, but I think it’s pretty clear it’s time to move on,” Clinton added.
Rather than draw conclusions, the report’s more than 800 pages tell a story, via documents and witness testimony, divided into several parts — a timeline of the attacks, internal and public government communications about them, and the events that led up to them. Separate sections criticize administration compliance with the investigation and offer recommendations for the future.
Two of the majority members who were outspokenly critical of the administration during committee hearings, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), appended their own commentary to the report, with more sharply written charges that officials — and Clinton in particular — failed to protect the diplomatic facility and to adequately respond to the attacks, misled the public about Benghazi and did not cooperate with the investigation.
Pompeo, in a news conference with committee Republicans, called the administration’s failure to launch a rescue mission to Benghazi “morally reprehensible.”
Gowdy, standing at Pompeo’s side, declined to share that assessment, saying: “My job is to report the facts. That’s what I’ve done. You can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw.”
Several Republicans also said that administration failures were politically motivated.
“They got a terrorist attack and they have to mislead the American people because it’s 56 days before an election, their legacy’s on the line, and [Clinton] has the goddess of history looking over her shoulder,” Jordan said.
Committee Democrats rushed to denounce the majority report — and the entire investigation — as wasted time and money.
“I hope what it will do, if there’s any positive result that will come out of this, is repudiate the idea of establishing select committees for partisan purposes,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who said he had not yet read the entire Republican report, because “they didn’t give it to us in advance.”
“There’s going to be a temptation among Democrats to say, ‘They did it to us, maybe we should do a Benghazi to them,’ and among Republicans to say, ‘We did it before, let’s do it to them again,’ ” Schiff said.
As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came to radically different conclusions about the worth of the investigation and the import of the separate reports, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking minority-party member of the select committee, called it “one of the saddest exercises I’ve ever engaged in in my 20 years in Congress.”
The majority report identified for the first time the force that ultimately rescued the remaining U.S. personnel at the CIA facility, known as the “annex,” as a group known as Libyan Military Intelligence. Unknown to the CIA and not affiliated with any of the local militias or security organizations familiar to the State Department, it was “comprised of former military officers under the [Moammar Gaddafi] regime who had gone into hiding” following Gaddafi’s U.S.-backed overthrow the previous year, the report said.
After being turned down by several official and militia groups from whom he sought aid during the night of the attacks, a CIA official, interviewed by the committee majority and identified in the report only as “Officer A,” said he was referred to the group by local police, the report said.
Most of the other revelations that Gowdy identified as newly uncovered had already been revealed, in whole or in part, by the committee itself or elsewhere, including the delays and ultimate failure of the U.S. military to launch a rescue mission until hours after the attacks were over.
The report repeats, with additional detail, Clinton’s strong advocacy for the 2011 U.S. bombing in Libya that helped lead to Gaddafi’s overthrow. Earlier this year, President Obama said the administration’s failure to “plan for the day after” Gaddafi’s ouster, and to adequately promote stability in Libya, was “probably” the worst mistake of his presidency.
Throughout that period, the majority report and previous inquires have noted, numerous internal State Department reports described the temporary Benghazi facility as insecure. Stevens and others had recommended it be established as a permanent consulate, in advance of a planned Clinton trip to Libya in October 2012.
The report recounted, in more detail than previous accounts, the fluctuating internal and public versions of the motivation of the attackers — which both the CIA and Clinton variously attributed to a protest against an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube and a planned terrorist attack. The latter version turned out to be true.
The report reserves most of its sharpest criticism for the Defense Department, while not disputing Pentagon statements that aid would not have arrived in time to save the lives of Stevens and State Department communications specialist Sean Smith at the diplomatic compound, or CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods at the CIA annex.
Anne Gearan and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.