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. jonathan

    Haven't assigned enough blame? Dude, is there anyone or anything the Republicans haven't blamed over Benghazi? Are there anymore 'what ifs' and 'if we would have' left for them to talk about? I mean, seriously get OVER BENGHAZI! Why are they still talking about this? Why are the highest government officials still concerned with this instead of all the problems we have? It blows my mind the things Republicans pick and choose to babble on about while ignoring our obvious problems that need remedies.

    May 12, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  2. John Tater

    "Top administration officials" changed the talking points. Of course they did. That's their job. Who the hell else is supposed to draft and redraft the talking points? The supreme court? The Senate? The House? Someone in the administration is tapped to draft the talking points–State, CIA, the Pentagon, whoever. Then they submit it to the others for comment. That's the way it works.

    May 12, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  3. Loggan44

    She is a failure to conservatives who are more concerned about their own jobs then doing what is right for the country. I doubt Hillary will run in 2016 but even on her worse days she would outdo any Repbulican president when it comes to the good of the country.

    May 12, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  4. Andrew C

    that anchor is too wide for tv

    May 12, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  5. Proud Texan

    No doubt Benghazi was a tragedy one which 4 people who knew the risk they were taking were killed. Think about the tragedy where scores of school children were killed by a whacko. Now which one will the GOP put more emphasis on? My bet they'll pursue the Benghazi witch hunt not because it was a tragedy, but only to hang shame on Hillary. We all know that.

    May 12, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  6. dc

    None of this matters to kool-aid drinkers. Bottom line, it was incorrectly shown to be caused by a video so that the President wouldn't look stupid for saying the AQ terrorists were pretty much gone. However, truth or fiction, the media and the administration have rendered it irrelevant...

    May 12, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  7. Awetmedic

    What does witnesses to the event have to do with anything? What does Al Queda or the motives of the attackers have to do with anything? Shifting the blame to the motives of the attackers changes nothing. The GOP asserts that the embassy should have known who was attacking it and for what reason during a firefight. They then assert that the diplomatic mission should have ended and a military one should have begun while using little to no intelligence to attack another country, within minutes using the embassy as a staging ground based on little to no intelligence other than an attack had begun. This is a clear waste of tax payer money. Embassies have a diplomatic mission not a military one. If you want to invade and fight another country do it according to the rules of war and not from an embassy which immediatly endangers all embassy staff in any embassy anywhere as now you have shown that an embassy is on a military mission and not a diplomatic one. Can't wait to get rid of the GOP in 2014.

    May 12, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  8. bergus

    what a load. they aren't 'targeting' hillary. they're 'targeting' an incompetent secretary of state. it just so happens that ex-secretary's name is hillary. if she didn't want the responsibility, she shouldn't have taken the job.

    May 12, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  9. DERay

    This is the most ridiculous headline I have ever seen on Republicans aren't treading a fine line- they are stomping all over facts in a rush to blame the President and the leadership of the State Department to score political points.
    Here's the simple reality: the attack in Benghazi wouldn't have happened if the State Department had funding for security- something that the Republican Party has consistently opposed. They want our Ambassadors, Consuls and other foreign service officers to be unprotected, to walk into danger with no backup, and they also want to blame everybody else when those officers are killed.

    May 12, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. Sarah/VA

    Republicans will NEVER win any election anytime soon,Benghazi will backfire on them,how about the LIE WOMD in Iraq & 911

    May 12, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  11. bergus

    really? they aren't 'targeting' hillary. they're 'targeting' an incompetent secretary of state. it just so happens that ex-secretary's name is hillary. if she didn't want the responsibility, she shouldn't have taken the job.

    May 12, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  12. cloud

    She should be considering what the repubs have to offer.

    May 12, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  13. TKO

    She was a failure? How about the House that failed to pass funding for secutiry in the consuls and embassies? And then there is this:

    "January 22, 2002. Calcutta, India. Gunmen associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami attack the U.S. Consulate. Five people are killed.

    June 14, 2002. Karachi, Pakistan. Suicide bomber connected with al Qaeda attacks the U.S. Consulate, killing 12 and injuring 51.

    October 12, 2002. Denpasar, Indonesia. U.S. diplomatic offices bombed as part of a string of "Bali Bombings." No fatalities.

    February 28, 2003. Islamabad, Pakistan. Several gunmen fire upon the U.S. Embassy. Two people are killed.
    May 12, 2003. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Armed al Qaeda terrorists storm the diplomatic compound, killing 36 people including nine Americans. The assailants committed suicide by detonating a truck bomb.

    July 30, 2004. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A suicide bomber from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacks the U.S. Embassy, killing two people.

    December 6, 2004. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda terrorists storm the U.S. Consulate and occupy the perimeter wall. Nine people are killed.

    March 2, 2006. Karachi, Pakistan again. Suicide bomber attacks the U.S. Consulate killing four people, including U.S. diplomat David Foy who was directly targeted by the attackers. (I wonder if Lindsey Graham or Fox News would even recognize the name "David Foy." This is the third Karachi terrorist attack in four years on what's considered American soil.)

    September 12, 2006. Damascus, Syria. Four armed gunmen shouting "Allahu akbar" storm the U.S. Embassy using grenades, automatic weapons, a car bomb and a truck bomb. Four people are killed, 13 are wounded.

    January 12, 2007. Athens, Greece. Members of a Greek terrorist group called the Revolutionary Struggle fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy. No fatalities.

    March 18, 2008. Sana'a, Yemen. Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire a mortar at the U.S. Embassy. The shot misses the embassy, but hits nearby school killing two.

    July 9, 2008. Istanbul, Turkey. Four armed terrorists attack the U.S. Consulate. Six people are killed.
    September 17, 2008. Sana'a, Yemen. Terrorists dressed as military officials attack the U.S. Embassy with an arsenal of weapons including RPGs and detonate two car bombs. Sixteen people are killed, including an American student and her husband (they had been married for three weeks when the attack occurred). This is the second attack on this embassy in seven months.

    May 12, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  14. MaryM

    Of course the republicans witch hunt continues. This is what American expect from the do-nothing repubs in congress.
    But I guarantee it will backfire on them if Hillary decides to run in 2016

    May 12, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  15. Elliott Carlin

    Treading carefully, or carrying a big stick-really shouldn't matter given the facts. This was Watergate X10...and ironic Hillary, then on the side of getting Nixon, is now on the receiving end. She should get the same "respect" Nixon did in 74...and should suffer just as much, if not more, than he did.

    May 12, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  16. eli

    Whole thing is a witch hunt. This is all to go after Clinton.

    May 12, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  17. LiberalNutCase

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

    May 12, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain

    @Biden: If you're looking failing at protecting Americans, during the GW Bush administration, there were 54 attacks on diplomatic targets that killed 13 Americans.

    Were you this outraged? Did you call for Bush's impeachment?

    May 12, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  19. CraigRB

    I don't think she'll run for President; I hope she doesn't but, she's not a failure.... she was a great Secretary of State. Now put that in your Tea Party pipe and smoke it.

    May 12, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  20. downwithnazis

    We effed up. Blame her all you like. She would still be an excellent president.

    May 12, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  21. kevin

    I'm curious....What do you guys want? Clinton and Rice are no longer in office and if you think impeachment for the President- forget about it. Though a very terrible tragedy for four silenced Americans and their families who served our country with honor. Where is the same anger for the seven American soldiers who were recently killed in Afghanistan? The three American crew members from KC-135 Tanker from Fairchild AFB that recently crashed in Kyrgyzstan? If you put that same passion toward toward trying to trap this administration (who is long from being perfect) to the thousands men and women in uniform who have been mangled for life or killed in this war, you'll be amazed how much sooner our troops would be home with their families. A lot of people seem to know a lot of talking points around what should have been done but my question... How many of you actually served this great nation? If you've ever served, you would automatically know how the government most of the time works but screws up- like most of us from time to time. All know what hurry up an wait at zero dark thirty means (not the movie) for a mission that is slow to execute. Republicans......Be careful of your wishes....Most Americans are detached from your witch hunt masquerading as "we just want to know the truth." We want to see you rebuild your party and make it more inviting for the average American. This same ole' drama of "stirring the pot" right versus the left strategy isn't what I expect from a party that loss the last election by a significant majority. Now.... you continue to alienate more voting Americans who really want to believe in your mission. It's time to do a serious needs assessment of the American people and creative destruction of your organization to focus and rebuild as the political party for 2016. If not, you will be planning for the 2020 election in 2014.

    May 12, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  22. MediaVP

    Clinton and Obama should quit trying to hide behind politics as well. Every time they claim republican witch hunt, who cares, this was a long time ago... they appear more guilty.

    May 12, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  23. Rex Crouch

    I wish Liberals would quit trying to marginalize the investigation by saying it's political or intended to discredit Clinton. Clinton as we all know her has never earned a position in her life. She rode into the national spotlight on the shirt-tale of her husband and has everything given to her since. The Benghazi investigation and House Resolution 36 are about honesty, integrity, and American values. If the investigation results finds that Clinton and Obama were derelict in their duties and betrayed the public trust by lying, then so be it. But, quit trying to obscure the truth.

    May 12, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  24. TheTraveler

    I can hear the conversation now:

    GOP: "Mrs. Clinton, we think you should take more blame for what happened in Benghazi."
    Mrs. Clinton: "Ok, I'll take more blame. Are we done now?"
    GOP: "Er, um, well ... "

    May 12, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  25. Mike

    The concern now is that someone changed the talking points to down play the terrorist attack aspect? The military already weighed in that the response time could not save these four Americans that died. So what is GOPs issue with the supposed Democrat rewriting of talking points? I mean come on we had Cheney rewriting all the Analysts at CIA on WMDs to force a decision to start a war of choice with Iraq that killed thousands of Americans and will have squandered multiple trillions of taxpayer dollars when all the costs finally come due. The GOP congress investigated that failure of leadership... What is that I hear? Silence, crickets chirping?
    This is a political witch hunt by the do nothing, ignore the jobs crisis, focus on the super rich CONservative party. Move on.

    May 12, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
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