When the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee concluded in late November that there had been “no intelligence failure” before the 2012 attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, it threatened to pry from Republicans one of their favorite vehicles for sniping at the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Rand Paul does not appear to be willing to let that happen.
The junior Kentucky senator and likely presidential candidate attacked the committee’s findings in an op-ed that is part first-stage-of-grief and part letter to Clinton.
“Benghazi was the definition of an intelligence failure,” Paul begins, dismissing the entire committee report as unserious.
“It was, in fact, one of the worst intelligence failures in our history, a strategic blunder that resulted in the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans… The ultimate blame lies with the Obama administration and more directly with Hillary Clinton who oversaw this tragedy during her tenure as secretary of state.”
Paul then asks of the “persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies” noted by the Associated Press, “None of these accusations contain even a modicum of truth?”
Later, Paul quotes Clinton’s notorious line, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” referring to what served as the catalyst for the attacks, an anti-Muslim video or a push by radical Islamists. “It makes huge difference, Mrs. Clinton,” Paul writes. “This new Benghazi ‘intelligence’ report is little more than a C.Y.A. attempt designed to protect incompetent politicians and government agents at the expense of justice for the victims of September 11, 2012… And yes, Hillary, it still matters.”
Asked on what intelligence Paul has based his conclusion that the Republican-led committee’s findings were incorrect, his senior aide, Doug Stafford, deflected by saying, “Senator Paul doesn’t believe the questions have all been answered, nor does he believe those responsible for this failure have been held accountable, especially Secretary Clinton.”
Asked, then, whether Paul is under the impression that the House Intelligence Committee and its Republican chairman fell prey to White House Benghazi propaganda, Stafford said: “We don’t have any comment on why the House Intelligence Committee issued a bad report, only that they did.”
Paul has consistently used Benghazi as a device to stake out high ground on foreign policy. He broaches the subject of Benghazi with ease, almost as if it’s become its own form of small talk—and it’s not hard to figure out why he doesn’t want to let it go.
For one thing, Benghazi allows Paul to attack Clinton without having to acknowledge why he’s doing it—were he to win the Republican nomination, he would likely face Clinton in the general election.
But perhaps more important than that, taking the the-government-is-hiding-the-truth-from-you position on Benghazi permits Paul to appeal to the base he inherited from his father, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul: conspiracy-prone libertarians. It’s a group that sometimes expresses skepticism about the younger Paul—he is, after all, the more mainstream (i.e., willing to sell out) version of his father. In his own words, he is just “libertarian-ish,” more likely to stake out positions outside the mainstream than the average Republican but ultimately someone who may muddy his own convictions in an effort to appeal to generic right-wing primary voters.
Infowars.com, an entertainingly deranged conspiracy-mongering website run by Bill Hicks-lookalike Alex Jones, a friend of the Paul family, seemed to praise Paul for not buying into the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi report, with the screaming headline “Rand Paul Slams Benghazi ‘Cover Your Ass’ Report.”
Paul is not the only one unwilling to accept the committee’s findings.
In the latest Weekly Standard can be found an editorial under the headline “The Benghazi Whitewash.” It claims that “the parts [of the report] that aren’t damning are a classic Washington whitewash… and one of the central facts confirmed by the report is an indictment of the mainstream media coverage of Benghazi.”
The publication chides National Journal’s Ron Fournier, Politico’s Michael Grunwald, and The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf for taking the committee’s report to mean what the committee reported.
Perhaps to Paul’s dismay, he has an ally in Sen. Lindsey Graham, with whom he has frequently sparred.On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Graham said the committee is “full of crap.”While Paul will likely continue to address Clinton via Breitbart, Stafford said he is eagerly awaiting the result of the Select Committee on Benghazi, led by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy. “Senator Paul looks forward to having more information brought forward about Benghazi and the failures of this administration, particularly Secretary Clinton.”