(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."
Four Americans lost their lives because of you and you are thinking about running for President good luck with that one.
I for one will never forget you or Obama ever.
Repubs you are looking very desperate.
Why no out cries or hearings when Cheney/bush took us to war in iraq on lies that killed 4,000 Americans?
If Bush can't get impeached for Iraq, then nobody should ever be impeached again.
Notice how none of the Republicans seem to be concerned at all with the actual attackers.
I just wish that 85% -90% of the people in this country would vote . We would still have a two party system , Republican would not be one of them . This is what we get from them , another conspiracy about Benghazi . America please vote.
That says everything doesn't it?
All the time when Fox was insisting the truth, CNN was pushing Clinton as next president. Now that the truth is
coming out how is CNN going to cover this one?
What's wrong with McCain's face? Does he constantly have something in his mouth? I mean, besides his foot?
So she should get a free pass?
C'mon Mr.Issa....how stupid do you think Americans are? Hillary and Obama obviously ARE your targets of this obvious partisan witch hunt. Don't insult us by insisting that you're just after "truth". If pursuit of truth is your motivation, where were you when Bush and Cheney lied and sold us a war that has killed thousands and cost trillions?
Send Hill-Dawg back to the Pound!
The Republicans haven't treaded any fine line. They've made it obvious: if they couldn't take out Obama as a presidential candidate with Benghazi, they'll try and take one potential candidate from the next election out instead.
And for what? Republicans talk about a coverup, but here's a basic clue about coverups: what's hidden can't be immediately obvious. The Burglar's connection to the White House, an arms sale made in secret to one of America's enemies, in contravention of the notion that we don't negotiate to appease terrorists, and also to illegally fund a guerilla group in Central America.
At worst, it was a delay in saying that it was affiliated, but the Administration did say it in due times, after an investigation had been made, and the allegation had been better proven.
This is not a crime that investigators have discovered has a concealed connection to somebody in the administration, this is simply Republicans alleging that the offering of a tentative first theory in lieu of another explanation amounts to a cover-up.
I mean, that's pathetic. In a real cover-up, the misconduct should be plain, and the deception inexplicable in any other terms than deliberate concealment. With the riots out there that were specifically said to be motivated by that video, it wasn't exactly a shot in the dark to believe it was involved.
Republicans need to get a life and stop these fishing fleet expeditions. They tried this before with another Clinton, and it's plain to see that they feel entitled to waste millions of taxpayer dollars for investigations only meant to improve their chances for the Presidency in 2016. Keeping in mind what happened the last time we tried this (We got Bush), we ought to take this for what it is, and tell the Republicans once again to move on and get back to doing serious work if they're capable of it.
"Hillary Clinton's not a target. President Obama is not a target." Does Issa really think we believe that?
The fine line was crossed by Clinton and Obama that fateful night – and an American ambassador and servicemen were murdered. Can't pin that on the republicans. ALL Americans should be demanding answers in the name of our national security.
I know this is CNN.com and I'm therefore biased against Fox News related craziness, but this is seriously CRAZY. Somehow, the Republicans really want SOMETHING here to stick, but can't find it. So, they keep claiming something, but without actually claiming what. My statement literally summarizes what the Republican goal is with this matter.
Time to put Cheney in the center of an inquest into the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and what happened to the billions of dollars that went missing, shipped to Iraq on pallets.
Huh? The Republicans are treading carefully...what drivel. They are out to assassinate her and it is exposing them for the hypocrites they are
As more details come to light this affair appears to be an inter-agency passing the buck exercise by some government officials trying to get off the hot seat. It is clear none of the cabinet members or the president attempted to hide facts from the public. What looks like smoke caused by a fire is fog created by a burocracy where people are worried about their jobs. Now the GOP needs to be worried about a blow back for having stirred this pot too long. They've been the victim of their own intrigues several times in a row now. It's time to learn something.
The fact that the only thing the GOP has to say is that they feel the need to attack Ms. Clinton now a full three years befor the general election shows how desprit and stupid they are.
Typical CNN bias in reporting, soft-peddaling an otherwise clear relationship between Ms Clinton and the death of our Ambassador. I can't think of anyone who would be worse than Obama, except for Hillary !!
Everyone knows what the GOP is REALLY doing here: they want to pre-emptively attack Hillary Clinton, in the vain hope that it might either deter her possible run for President in 2016, or damage her in the eyes of Independents.
This is simply the politics of charachter assasination.
What a horrid picture of Hillary or next president!
What a joke. Issa goes on TV and calls Hillary Clinton a liar b/c he alleges she signed a cable about the security. But he knew all along it was an electronic signature and that all State Dept cables get that signature. But the so-called liberal media has yet to call him out for his blatant lie and he has yet to apologize for purposely attempting to mislead a public that is fortunately too smart for him.
And how sad and pathetic and bitter has John McCain become? WHat a poor loser.
Somebody failed to protect 5 US officials in a potential dangerous environment, not admirable! Administration misrepresenting the incident typical ( Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan comes to mind).
WMD fiasco in Iraq cost thousands of Americans and billions. Can we investigate the tragic clown from Crawford TX?
Hope Rush is still scoring drugs and Cheney is still invited to bird hunts!
Can we get on to affordable healthcare and college education?
The GOP wants a steady supply of greeters at Wal-Mart , tax cuts for the rich and milking an unsustainable middle class!
Chris needed to proof this before putting it out. I do not see why voters will care about this in 2016 when they did not care in 2012. Republicans need to do more than these games. How do they plan to move the country forward?