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. Michael

    Congress can have a bit of political fun with this but there is no way they are going to expose what was going on there.; They don't want to touch that.

    May 12, 2013 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  2. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    so the theory is that a terrorist attack by al qaeda would have HURT an incumbent president's chances ?

    usually we blame politicians for scaring us into a vote, where's the boogeyman here ?

    i think there were probably failures, just like there were during every single other attack we've ever faced. i just don't see where this is going. what's the cover up ?

    May 12, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    They are only interested in tarnishing Clinton and Obama period! Period! Period,

    May 12, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  4. retief1954

    The GOP does not "tread carefully" in ANY matter. It is not capable of that sort of nuance and discretion.

    May 12, 2013 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  5. steve

    She will be president. Get used to it.

    May 12, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  6. Seth

    Good luck with that! Hillary 2016!

    May 12, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  7. Dan

    I don't support the pretty obvious witch hunt being put on by the Republicans to discredit Mrs. Clinton. I do support another investigation into how we screwed up and whether or not something was covered up, especially considering what has come to light recently involving the IRS's specific targeting of conservative groups. Something doesn't sit right about the whole Benghazi thing and the IRS spectacle with me.

    May 12, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  8. craig

    Fail is Fail

    Clinton or not

    May 12, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  9. Bently

    The State Department had a budget for security but it was cut a year before the events in Libya. If you are a conservative and believe anything bad said about GOP lawmakers to be a lie, I wouldn't dig so hard for the truth. The fact that during Bush's there were over 56 separate attacks on embassies on only 3 hearings on it during his entire presidency should tell you something. It should also tell you what kind of man John McCain is when he hand waves these failings under a Republican President as counter productive, but demands a full inquest when a Democrat sits in the White House. It ought to be telling when the GOP is willing to use our honored dead as a political tool to further their agenda, because if they honestly cared about American lives we would not have gone to Iraq on bad intel and we would not have cut the State Department's budget.

    May 12, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  10. James

    No problem–She's toast anyway–

    May 12, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  11. josenopy

    I do not think they want to face Hillary again on this one. The GOP will be killed if they bring Hillary back to Congress. They are the stupid party. I saw the talk shows today and it is just plain stupid of the GOP to open this back up. Please go for it. Call Hillary back. It is going to be fun.

    May 12, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  12. reply

    Bet Biden is happy.

    May 12, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  13. josenopy

    Biden do people like you follow the news. Look at C-Span or PBS to get the truth. Just look at the lying GOP on the talk shows today and just think a little.

    May 12, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  14. Gary

    Another Issa witch hunt. Where was your concern when your boy George and his Dick lied 5000 soldiers dead?
    No investigation there. Where was your concern when Condi lied about WMD's? Hopefully one day you'll figure it out Darrell, NO ONE believes you.

    May 12, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  15. midnitemgt

    We all know that there was inaquadete security that led to the four deaths. Now we need to concentrate on how that occured and how to make sure that those posted in unstable foreign locations are protected as best we can. Arguing over talking points that are after the fact is just politics as usual for both sides and not productive.

    May 12, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  16. Leftcoastrocky

    Republicans have not been treading carefully; they have been like a bull in a china shop.

    May 12, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  17. Kenman

    Yes, we don't want to offend the sensibilities of the mainstream media, or the liberal political elite, or they will just send their reporters elsewhere and show us! The "cover-up" is a daily occurrence in the liberal media.

    May 12, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  18. S.B. Stein

    There is too much in the way of people going after Clinton. I don't think that there is really enough to show that she was at fault by herself. The question that I have is why was Stephens in an unsecured area when there was a clear chance that he and the location could be overrun.

    May 12, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  19. never ending fight for freedom

    What is everyone in such a fuss over? I mean this was only targeting non profit tax exempt status applications right?
    Surly they weren't/wouldn't also be targeting individual Americans based on their combination of race, political affiliations, economic status, location etc.? I mean that would be a real leap here right, to think these low livel agents would use these same tactics on anyone other than those seeking non profit status...

    May 12, 2013 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  20. craig

    . Comments are not pre-screened before they post.

    more CNN LIES

    May 12, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  21. craig

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.


    May 12, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  22. Donna

    Issa is the biggest loose cannon the GOP has had since Dan Burton was shooting watermelons in his backyard to "prove" Vince Foster was murdered. Now how many US diplomats were killed under George W. Bush's watch (leaving 9/11 aside of course). About 70, for Godsakes.

    This is the usual GOP claptrap and hypocrisy indeed. When the Joint Chief of Staff of the US Military has stated that there was no way they could have gotten there for a rescue then SANE people end the discussion. That would of course exclude at least 98% of the House Republicans and about 70% of the Senate Republicans.

    May 12, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  23. Mark

    The mothers of the people killed in Benghazi aren't having a day with their kids that is what matters. Had the same thing happened on Bush's watch he would have been facing impeachment within a month, and I would have been for it just as I am now. The lies put out by this administration go beyond pathetic. Obama and his crew have lost every little bit of respect I had for them. I can't for the life of me figure out how someone could defend such in-action. Truly beyond pathetic.

    May 12, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  24. Good Karma

    Republican have always put winning elections ahead of country's interests. They are doing the same in the Benghazi. The sad part is when GOP does get in the power, they further ruin the country as in 2000 to 2008 period. Shame! Shame! Shame!

    May 12, 2013 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  25. Linda

    I see sour grapes McCain is still running his big mouth. We all know that the pubs are afraid of Hillary in 2016. She is far more competent than any of these blowhards could ever be & smarter as well. Their not afraid their petrified. GIVE ME A BREAK! lol

    May 12, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
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