Hillary Clinton says it’s “time to move on” after a congressional report on the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks accused the Obama administration of lethal mistakes, but produced no “smoking gun” pointing to wrongdoing by the former secretary of state.
Not likely, especially in an election year with Clinton’s presidential rival – Donald Trump – lashing out.
An 800-page report by a special House committee makes no direct accusations of wrongdoing by Clinton, who was secretary of state during the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Still, Republicans point to Benghazi as a major failure by the administration and by Clinton during her tenure leading the State Department. The issue is likely to shadow Clinton as she continues her bid for president.
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“Four Americans died, yet no one has been fired. No one even missed a paycheck,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Americans – including all our men and women serving overseas – deserve better.”
Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said the report by Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee took more than two years and $7 million but “found nothing to contradict” the findings of earlier investigations.
“I'll leave it to others to characterize this report but I think it’s pretty clear it’s time to move on,” Clinton said a campaign stop in Denver Tuesday.
Republicans were not ready to let the issue go, especially with an election that will decide who occupies the White House and which party will control the House and Senate.
The Benghazi panel has scheduled a July 8 meeting to formally adopt the report – 10 days before the Republican National Convention begins in Cleveland.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican facing a tough re-election race, said the administration “ignored a deteriorating security situation” in Benghazi, “and the State Department disregarded repeated requests for increased security.”
Trump was uncharacteristically quiet on the topic Tuesday, but he has repeatedly blamed Clinton for the deaths in Benghazi.
Even after issuing the report the committee’s work is not over. On Wednesday the panel will interview a witness who posted on Facebook that he was a crew chief based in Europe on the night of the attacks. A committee spokesman said the interview would be posted on the panel’s website and any information he provides can be added to the report.
Democrats called the interview ridiculous.
The Libya attacks have been political fodder from the start, given their timing in the weeks before President Barack Obama’s re-election, and that has not abated despite seven previous congressional investigations. There has been finger-pointing on both sides over security at the diplomatic outpost and whether Clinton and the White House initially tried to portray the assault as a protest over an offensive, anti-Muslim video, instead of a calculated terrorist attack.
The prolonged investigation into the attacks has also been marked by partisan sniping. Republicans accuse the administration of stonewalling important documents and witnesses, while Democrats say the panel’s primary goal is to undermine Clinton’s presidential bid.
Republican insistence that the investigation was not politically motivated was undermined last year when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested that the committee could take credit for Clinton’s then-slumping poll numbers. His statements helped dash McCarthy’s chances of becoming House Speaker.
The committee interviewed more than 100 witnesses and reviewed some 75,000 pages of documents, but an almost accidental discovery by the panel last year has shadowed Clinton’s candidacy. The committee disclosed that she had used a private email server to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state, a practice that has drawn widespread scrutiny, including an FBI investigation.
Already bitterly partisan, Tuesday’s release of the report exposed divisions within Republican ranks.
Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Jim Jordan of Ohio issued a separate report slamming Clinton and the Obama administration, with Pompeo telling reporters that the former first lady and senator was “morally reprehensible.”
Clinton’s public comments casting the attack as a possible protest over the anti-Muslim video differed sharply from her private assessments to family members and diplomats, Jordan and Pompeo said.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., deflected questions, saying the report “is not about one person.”
The GOP report severely criticizes the military, CIA and administration officials for their response as the attacks unfolded, and their subsequent explanations to the American people.
Hours after the attacks began, “Not a single wheel of a single U.S. military asset had even turned toward Libya,” Gowdy complained. U.S. military leaders told the committee they thought an evacuation was imminent, slowing any response.