Republican members of a House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks finally released their conclusions on Tuesday. And at first glance, the 800-plus page report, two years in the making, looked like a big political misfire.
For starters, the report revealed few new significant details about the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission that claimed four American lives. And it offered no clear and direct evidence that laid the blame for the attacks at the feet of Hillary Clinton, then the Secretary of State and now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina lawmaker who had led the committee, had long insisted his was a fact-finding mission not an act of partisan combat. But that assertion was perhaps irreparably undermined when a senior Republican congressman, Kevin McCarthy, characterized the investigation as an effort to bring down Clinton’s poll numbers.
The report was contested before it was even published. Democrat and Republican members of the committee were hopelessly divided, issuing separate, contradicting findings within a day of each other. The Democrats didn’t even see the Republican report until it was being released and played no role in writing it.
“Decades in the future, historians will look back on this investigation as a case study in how not to conduct a credible investigation,” the Democratic members wrote in their report, preemptively released on Monday. “They will showcase the proliferation of Republican abuses as a chief example of what happens when politicians are allowed to use unlimited taxpayer dollars—and the formidable power of Congress—to attack their political foes.”
Gowdy will now be under pressure to explain why his committee spent $7 million investigating an issue that, as Democrats are always first to note, had been reviewed by about nine previous committees.
His answer seemed to be to avoid politics entirely and cast the Republican report as the definitive account of how the Benghazi attacks played out and what was the U.S. responseor lack thereof. At a press conference in Washington Tuesday, unveiling the report, Gowdy focused on bureaucratic bungling, a slow response to the violence on the ground, and a failure to comprehend intelligence about that nature of the attacks.
“No U.S. military asset was ever deployed to Benghazi” during the attack, Gowdy said the committee had found. “Washington had access to real time information but yet somehow they thought the fighting had subsided.”
Gowdy also argued that the committee, which interviewed more than 100 people, had produced a report that, if it didn’t exactly change the entire storyline, would add new and important nuance, which he invited people to examine for themselves in the massive tome.
“There is new information on what happened in Benghazi, and that information should fundamentally change the way you view what happened in Benghazi,” he said. Much of that information focused on the slowness of the response, as well as new details about meetings at the White House and how the administration was crafting a response; but again, nothing earth-shaking.
Two Republican congressman thought that the majority reportwhich they endorsed—didn’t go far enough on the political front. Reps. Mike Pompeo and Jim Jordan wrote 42 pages of “additional views” aimed at laying the blame for the attacks at Clinton’s feet.
In their view, Clinton and her senior colleagues in the Obama administration did everything they could to downplay the attacks and portray them as anything but terrorism, in order to fit the broader political narrative that “the tide of the war [on terrorism] was receding,” Pompeo told The Daily Beast. “Their mindset was to underplay, to react with caution,” rather than call the attack an act of terrorism, Pompeo argued.
Pompeo and Jordan practically accused Clinton of lying to save herself. But Pompeo acknowledged to The Daily Beast that there’s no smoking gun to prove his case. Much of what the Republican members have concluded comes from the mountains of documents they reviewed and hours of interviews that seem, to them, to point in the direction of Clinton’s culpability.
“Officials at the State Department, including Secretary Clinton, learned almost in real time the true nature of the Benghazi attack and that it must have been a planned terrorist attack,” they wrote. “With the presidential election just 56 days away, rather than tell the American people the truth and increase the risk of losing an election, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly.”
The public version of events, they said, was that the attacks were inspired by an offensive video circulating online that had inspired protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and that eventually spread to Libya, a claim for which Pompeo and Jordan found no evidence.
Democrats and Republicans will agree a few points. First, Libya was a foreign policy priority for Clinton, who had argued that President Obama should take military action against dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“The evidence we turned up during the review makes very clear that Libya was Clinton’s baby,” Pompeo said.
And both the Republican and Democratic reports find that Clinton was aware of intelligence that underscored the dangerous security situation in Libya.
But that’s where the two sides diverge, irreconcilably. In the Democrats’ view, the responders to the attacks did all they could to save the Americans’ in harm’s way. To the Republicans’, hours of bureaucratic wrangling over how to respond to the attacks and an earlier failure to appreciate the severity of the security situation sealed the Americans’ fate.
The saga of Benghazi will not come to an end today. The distance between the two sides guarantees that.