May 12th, 2013
04:35 PM ET
5 years ago

Republicans walk fine line when targeting Clinton in Benghazi probe

(CNN) – Republicans continued to put Hillary Clinton at the center of their inquest into last September's attack in Benghazi, claiming Sunday the former secretary of state wasn't assigned enough blame in an independent probe of the incident.

But in singling out the top Democratic presidential prospect for 2016, Republicans find themselves balancing their quest for answers with charges of being overly aggressive in a bid for political gain.

Speaking Sunday, the Republican lawmaker leading the charge in Congress to investigate the Benghazi attack said his goal was not to tarnish Clinton's presidential chances.

"Hillary Clinton's not a target. President Obama is not a target. The target is how did we fail three different ways," Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

His remarks came after week of renewed interest in the Benghazi saga, and fresh charges of politicization from Democrats. On Wednesday, Issa's oversight panel heard an account of the Benghazi siege from a former top diplomat in Libya, who described a harrowing night that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to the country.

The hearing, which lasted five hours, drew loud protests from the White House and Congressional Democrats, who accused Republicans of rehashing a case that has already been investigated by an independent review board.

Witnesses in Wednesday's hearing, including the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks, questioned the legitimacy of that board's report on the Benghazi attack, suggesting it did not include accounts from key witnesses to the assault who were on the ground as it happened.

On Sunday, critics also questioned why Clinton herself wasn't assigned more blame in the report.

"Obviously she was the decision maker at the State Department," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said on CBS "Face the Nation," adding she was "surprised" Clinton wasn't probed further.

The co-chair of the review board, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, defended his work on CNN's "State of the Union," arguing his panel was charged specifically with investigating security decisions, which he said were not made at Clinton's level.

"She has already made clear the buck stopped with her," former Ambassador Thomas Pickering said. "But we were interested in where the decisions were made. And she did not make the security decisions."

Pickering's report, released late last year, found "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" at the State Department in the lead-up to the attack in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead. As a result, four State Department officials were disciplined immediately after the report's release. One resigned, while three others were placed on administrative leave and relieved of their duties.

Those actions were deemed insufficient by some Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul, who told Clinton during a hearing in January he would have "relieved you of your post" had he been president.

He made similar remarks on Friday, telling a crowd of Iowa Republicans that Clinton's actions were "inexcusable" and should "preclude her from holding higher office." Paul is openly considering a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

His remarks in front of potential Iowa caucus-goers only fueled Democratic accusations Sunday that the Benghazi focus is a veiled bid to discredit Clinton.

"Unfortunately, this has been caught up in the 2016 presidential campaign-this effort to go after Hillary Clinton," Sen. Dick Durbin said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He called Republican scrutiny of Clinton a "witch hunt."

"When Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing…a point of the hearing is to discredit the secretary of state who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president," Sen. Dianne Feinstein added on NBC's "Meet the Press."

On Sunday, Sen. John McCain also linked Clinton to a bungled administration response to the Benghazi attack, which he amounted to a "cover-up" of information designed to protect the White House.

His accusations were fueled a set of internal e-mails from September that were released this week, which showed top administration officials changing a set of talking points used to describe the Benghazi attack. The talking points were meant for members of Congress, and for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice during appearances on Sunday talk shows.

McCain and other Republicans allege the changes to the talking points – which eliminated references to al Qaeda being involved in the attack, which came less than two months before the presidential election – were politically motivated, since President Barack Obama had campaigned using his administration's handling of national security issues.

Clinton herself isn't shown receiving or sending any of the e-mails herself. But McCain alleged it was impossible for her not to have been involved.

"I think that the secretary of state has played a role in this," the Arizona Republican said on ABC's "This Week."

"She had to have been in the loop some way," he continued. "But, we don't know for sure."

Filed under: Hillary Clinton • Libya
soundoff (808 Responses)
  1. Larry

    As Secretary of State of the United States of America, I cannot imagine that Hillary Clinton was not advised, minute by minute, about everything known about the failure of security which led to the death of 4 Americans serving their country in a very dangerous place. She has to sincerely own the Benghazi fiasco even if it hurts her political ambitions. As she herself has said, the buck stopped with her.

    Chris Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya, had asked for help in the form of increased security based on facts he saw on the ground, and the State Dept blew it, (big-time) resulting in the death of 4 Americans, including Stevens. Mrs. Clinton is not the person I want answering that 3:00 AM phone call.

    May 12, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  2. Magician

    I find it amazing that Senators and Congressmen do not know how crises are handled by top officials. Of course talking points are revised, as new information is obtained.. The public does not need to know raw data. The Administration was correct in getting the facts before releasing info. The only reason the committee has any emails is because the President released them. Previous administrations refused to release emails to congress. John McCain needs to stop whining. He is never going to be President. The Republicans are desperate to do ANYTHING to get the White House back, to the point of destroying the country by obstructing necessary funding for essential government functions.. Thus, the witch hunt to blame anyone but themselves.

    May 12, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  3. pkrbkr3

    The Republicans are actually doing Hillary a favor by trying to blame her.....she is much more popular than they are and people will see the writing on the wall that they are only trying to discredit a very competent and well liked lady! Hillary 2016! You go, girl!

    May 12, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  4. will never vote Republician again

    Do something important for the American people you stupid, angry REPUBS!

    May 12, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  5. GAK

    I think Senator McCain was in the loop when "W" and Cheney lied about WMD's in Iraq. I just don't know for sure!!! What a crock!! this is not about finding out about what went wrong but how do we (GOP) stop Hillary before she decides whether she will or will not run for Pres.Issa has sat in this information for months but is just now?? looking in to it??

    May 12, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  6. cp

    During Mrs. Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State she was often congratulated by these same men who are accusing her of a cover-up. Before you make any announcement about attacks on US personnel you best be sure just who did it. Blaming the wrong group can get dicey at best.

    The Republicans would rush to judgement as they have done in the past. They are ready to do battle at a moment's notice. However, they do not lead the charge not do most of them have relatives in the armed forces. They are quick to send someone else's child.

    Ambassador Pickering investigated and gave his conclusions. Even so, Mrs. Clinton took the blame. Once again people are more interested in getting even. The hearings keep them from passing any legislation which would help their constituents. The legacy of this Congress will be the number of investigations they have had from 2013-2014. If they are not in session they have gone home to raise funds to run again. Their work ethic is not too great and we are footing the bill for all their expenses including their salaries, health insurance, office expenses, staff, office space and more. When they retire they are given a pension that is far greater than that given to anyone else including the military members they have sent into battle.

    May 12, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  7. DB

    Ahhhhh, the poor little Democrats feel they are being picked on. After all they are the most honest and up front people that live on the surface of the earth.

    May 12, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  8. Leroy

    Madam President Hillary Rodam Clinton in 2016 !!!

    May 12, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  9. trevorbryant flagstaff az

    I love Republicans. They can't seem to let this story go. Why? The only reason I can see here is that they want to smear Obama, and ESPECIALLY smear Hillary. The electorate did not vote the way they want, so they want to retroactively (in Obamas case) hobble him... and simultaneously try to hobble Hillary, who they don't want to face in 2016. This is a two-fer for them. Heaven forbid they can't make this stick, they would have to face Hillary down the road with nothing bad to say about her. It has literally been 9 months, and they still cannot make this stick. Probably because more diplomats died under Bush, so they really have no cause for outrage– it happens all the time. Republicans truly can't stand that the American public voted for someone else. Shameful.

    May 12, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  10. Ed Harvey

    Purely politically motivated. Look no further.

    May 12, 2013 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  11. crp

    Same people, different day. Sen. McCain, Sen. Ayotte and others just keep harping on the same thing. The Pentagon is just as adamant that help would not have reached Benghazi in time.

    The saddest part of the story is the Libyan people who betrayed a man who cared deeply about them. He wanted to serve his country and he wanted to be in Libya. He worked extremely hard to build relationships. Those who carried out the killings will always have blood on their hands.

    Those members of Congress who cut the budget to security for diplomats need to step forward and admit that they made a huge mistake which resulted in the insufficient number of security personnel assigned in Libya. No amount of time spent in hearings will change that. There was not enough security because some members thought the budget was too high. WE need to be sure they are held accountable as well.

    May 12, 2013 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  12. Joe smith

    "She had to have been in the loop some way," or "But, we don't know for sure." Which is it Senator J. MCcain?

    May 12, 2013 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  13. barbraS

    The GOP sees her as a threat in 2016 so they are trying to discredit her now. The GOP is a desperate bunch of wimps.

    May 12, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  14. Ed

    GOP doubling down on dumb....again. What's next, Ken Starr?

    May 12, 2013 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  15. Tom

    I listened to Issa this morning. He noted that there is a factual statement in the record made by Ambassodor Stevens himself. Issa qouted Stevens three or four times stating that Stevens said "We are under attack". Then in a subsequent statement by Issa, he, Issa, issereted the word terrorist in the statement. It is Issa who is making false statements and misleading the American people. He is the one playing political games along with other repubicans, possibly in an attempt to thwart a Clinton run for the White House in three years.

    May 12, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  16. Core republican Values

    As long as the republican zombies like Kelly Ayotte keep poking, I'll keep supporting Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton farts with more intelligence than Kelly Ayotte will ever speak.

    May 12, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  17. lewis

    Yawn. If Issa has anything to do with it then it has to be a witch hunt....This is what happens when you have no ideas....

    May 12, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  18. Michelle

    They are terrified she will run in '16 so they are preemptively attacking her hoping that she will be so tarnished that she can't run. It is backfiring.

    May 12, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  19. Mercury

    The gibbering GOP throws it's feces anywhere and everywhere in the desperate hope that somehow, somewhere, some of it sticks.

    "Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, turds fly over the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I?"

    May 12, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  20. david saint

    as opposed to who biden, condie rice? lol how long did she lie about WMD's for, months? the biggest joke is that Issa and the other republicans keep wanting to omit their part when they cut funding for security at embassies

    May 12, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  21. Guess9

    Hillary Clinton will be our next president and nothing will stop her.

    May 12, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  22. waitaminute

    There is no sense to step lightly. The damage is done no matter what. She failed those men and failed in her duties as SECSTATE.

    May 12, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  23. craig

    Two lies and one significant omission...all rolled into one neat package.

    First, we all know the President is a target, because he's a publicly identified target of every move made by the GOP, and especially the House. When the GOP sponsor of a bill admits that his own party voted against it because they couldn't be seen as giving the President "a victory"...and despite the overwhelming support of the American People, how stupid do they think we are? That's lie #1.

    Second, obviously they've decided that they must begin the attack on Ms. Clinton, because she just might be a candidate for the Presidency in 2016. "She didn't get enough of the blame" can easily be decoded by a third grader to mean "we need to smear her everytime we can, to start building the case against her with the simply-minded GOP voters." That's lie #2.

    Now, the omission. The GOP claims to be concerned about security at embassies, but during the Bush years more than 30 people were killed by hostile actions against US embassies, and what did the GOP say about any of those incidents? NOTHING! Not a single word. How dumb do you have to be before the political aspects of this are obvious? The GOP has nothing to offer as a plan, so their only avenue for anything is blame the President and/or his administration while preventing anything constructive being done for the country.

    May 12, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  24. wut?!?

    This is just the teapublicans doing what they do best - lying, deceiving, deflection and obstructionism. These lunatic conservatives have proven by their words and actions in the last election, that they are only capable of attempting to pull the political wool over the public's eyes. It didn't work then and it won't work now. Hopefully come 2014 a lot of the trash will be taken out.

    May 12, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Hillary and Obama are to blame for the debacle in Benghazi and the ensuing cover up.

    May 12, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
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