May 12th, 2013
04:35 PM ET
11 months 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. David Crosby

    Hillary is going to remember each and every one..If I was a Republican I'd be wary of going after her too hard..She will be the next President and they can have long memories...

    May 13, 2013 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  2. Patrick

    Considering who CNN's Washington D.C. bureau chief is married to it's event who is really walking the fine line here.

    May 13, 2013 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  3. meat

    Families need to know what happened. Timeline not making sense. When they knew what, and when they said what. Looks like a cover up. So sad for the families.

    May 13, 2013 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  4. Rex Crouch

    Democrats are done.

    May 13, 2013 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  5. Flagship, NC

    he continued. "But, we don't know for sure."

    May 13, 2013 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  6. Reckless

    They don't know anything. It's all "if" and "I believe". When asked what kind of conspiracy they think she was involved in they had no response. The fact that Rand said she shouldn't hold a higher office shows the reason for these hearings. During the Bush admin 54 attacks on diplomats occurred resulting in 13 fatalities and they held a total of three hearings.

    May 13, 2013 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  7. Dejavu65

    All the Republicans do is criticize our leaders regardless of success or failure but they do not have any solutions....Everything they do if for political gain. Nothing to do with putting country first...Clinton 2016!! ..landslide!!

    May 13, 2013 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  8. Dave

    Republicans themselves are keeping Clinton's name in the news. They can't help but give away their fear for her. Bill Maher is right; Hillary Clinton is scandal proof. Benghazi is not going to put another Republican in the White House. They'll have to win it for themselves with good new ideas.

    May 13, 2013 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  9. Zz

    Any chance to Blame someone connected to and Obama in any way, shape or form, is the GOP's kettle of gold at the end of the rainbow, and will do so at all our expense. It should also be understood that there is no way in hell that some of the T-party extremists cannot and should not be allowed to be privy to everything with this nation's security. They are all seedy ego centric that would sell out to anyone that offered them power or money. There are too many in congress that are there for all the wrong reasons with special agendas, and when someone that does not see their world views as they do (ego-centric) they will stop at nothing to harm that person rather than do what is right for all. These are pitiful political times and this country and and every citizen could be doing much better if we had actual congressmen that were actual representatives of the people they represent. Look around at work and in your community and see if you know of any wealthy snobs that do whatever they want and have people lobby them and make promises of gifts. I am not saying just agree with everything but to disagree for the sake of disagreeing only to try to harm a person's rep is pathetic, or to disagree because you have paid or pressured into it like the GOP does, is pathetic. And it is not simple peer pressure the GOP gives to anyone in the party that does not vote as they want them to vote are systematically blackballed from the Good Ole Boy's club. Obama has us all doomed unless he can put an end to the extremism of the GOP, but really it is up to us and up to us to have someone get elected that are like us. We have to do something!

    May 13, 2013 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  10. thyhdgh

    Time to pull Ken Starr out of the storage shed.

    May 13, 2013 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  11. J M

    If there is evidence that condemns her, then let it be found. If it doesn't condemn her, then why is she afraid?

    All I remember is that in my reading around the time of Benghazi, the only news agency reporting the story of the group told to stand down was Fox News.

    Something still stinks....

    Hopefully we find it. Hopefully for Hillary, it isn't her.

    May 13, 2013 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  12. Nodack

    "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."

    Of course not. What kind of people do you think they are?

    May 13, 2013 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  13. Lizard Lance

    This is another republican witch hunt. Would Condoleeza Rice done anything differently? Doubtful.

    May 13, 2013 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  14. BeverlyNC

    Enough of this Benghazi witchhunt. The ambassador knew the dangers of being out of the embassy in a remote consulate during a very volatile time of civil war in Libya. Repubicans are more culpable for refusing the State Dept's multi-year request for more funding for embassy security.
    It's too bad Republicans don't have the same zeal for working on jobs, education, infrastructure, veteran aid and other critical PEOPLE issues and legislation. in 6 years the Republicans have not passed a single bill to benefit the American People on any economic recovery effort. Just 387 filibusters and constant obstruction.
    What it is time for is no more Republicans back in office after the 2014 midterm elections.

    May 13, 2013 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  15. Elaine

    I don't think Republicans are walking a fine line in regard to Hillary Clinton. She had a responsibility to the American people and did not honor it. In addition, we need new blood in Washington. Don't you think that a Clinton administration, plus Hillary's activity in politics plus being Secretary of State is ENOUGH! It reminds me of the reality shows that keep featuring the same people. We have a huge country with many smart and capable people, why do we have to keep these people who should just go home....their only talent is politics because they have the money that most of us do not have, to run for office. Hilary should take up charitable work and give back, let someone else try to govern this country!

    May 13, 2013 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  16. alpeaston

    I have a radical proposal for the GOP concerning the next Presidential election. Instead of vainly attempting to discredit the potential Democratic candidate, why not find a real, viable REPUBLICAN candidate! That would at least be a unique approach!

    May 13, 2013 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  17. Richard Larson

    McCain at one and the same time claims that Secretary Clinton absolutely was involved, just had to be because her name os all over all the paperwork, bit in the next breath says they can't be sure and that they should be careful because they just don't know. Dammit Senator, make up your mind! Issa has been targeting every body but the dead Ambassador, and at first claimed that he was responsible for his own death because he hadn't insisted on beefed up security. Issa is backing off because he realizes that his skirts aren't exactly free of dirt. What is interesting that all of the whoop-la a couple weeks ago about impeachment has completely disappeared, except for maybe that certifiable fool, Rand Paul. Why, They finally realized that they didn't have anything that would stick, in historic, if not immediate dereliction. You can't impeach a president for something that most Representatives and Senators have failed at at least several times each term served.

    May 13, 2013 03:10 am at 3:10 am |
  18. jrh

    Hillary Clinton has been an excellent public servant to this country. People may not like her for various reasons, but she clearly cares about making the country better, and does a lot of good work to see that happen. Is she infallible? No, but she has certainly put more hard work into improving our government than many other politicians will ever dream of doing. This is such a transparent attempt by the GOP to discredit the obvious 2016 democratic front runner that it makes them look amatuer. You want people to vote for you and to be relevant again, republicans? Do some good work and make a difference- stop spending all your time trying to undo what the other guy has done and do something yourself.

    May 13, 2013 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  19. Joe

    If only they were so zealous about bush's many gross and obvious failures. Only reason they care is because a democrat is in office. If it were a republican, this wouldn't even be news. Sad pathetic party.

    May 13, 2013 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  20. Edwin

    So... the bottom line is that the independent review board did not rake Clinton or Obama over the coals enough - so the republicans are upset. Before the review board, they *knew* Clinton and Obama were guilty as sin - so they were justifiably upset when the truth turns out to be different.

    But, honestly, when a non-partisan investigation does not turn up scandal, what possible reason is there to believe a partisan investigation will be anything but, well, partisan politics?

    May 13, 2013 03:43 am at 3:43 am |
  21. 66Biker

    The problem was a lack of funds to pay for security. And a lack of funds for the security of federal offices starts where? Not with Hillary Clinton. Try our do nothing Congress and the twin obstructionist parties who run it.

    May 13, 2013 03:44 am at 3:44 am |
  22. Leonidas

    I voted for Obama in 2008, but, here's the deal: They blamed the riots on a mob enraged by a video–which is protected by the First Amendment–while they knew, in fact, exactly which terrorist cell it was. Not only that, but the evidence indicates that they knew the terrorists were GOING to attack, and, furthermore, when special forces were on the way to help, they were ordered to turn around and stand down. What part of that don't people get?

    It's deeper than just Hillary Clinton. Also, the Republicans can't allow the Democrats to martyr her as a scapegoat but it gives her the opportunity to say "Hey, guys, I don't want to be President so buy me out, I'll take the 'fall', and retire."

    May 13, 2013 03:59 am at 3:59 am |
  23. aCriticalEye

    The GOP/ Tea Trolls have already been exposed for wanting to destroy this country to make Mr. Obama and the Dem party look bad. When you have GOP senators come out and say, "We will do everything in our power to ensure Mr Obama is a one term president", Then when he gets reelected, they say, we wont pass any legislation that will give Mr. Obama a victory. We the American people, can see very clearly, what the agenda is.

    We have to vote out every GOp/Tea Troll in 2014.

    May 13, 2013 04:44 am at 4:44 am |
  24. Cynthia

    I don't believe Hillary had been interested in running 2016. But, the Republicans' mistake is to provoke her. Now it seems impossible for her not to run.

    May 13, 2013 04:46 am at 4:46 am |
  25. Dave

    So where is the fine line mentioned in the headline? Doesn't sound like the Republicans are holding back at all? "Bigger scandal than Watergate and Iran-Contra combined," said one Republican lawmaker. Exaggerate much?

    May 13, 2013 05:20 am at 5:20 am |
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