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. ST

    I warned Hillary before hand that she should not show these hungry lions and lioness(GOP), that she is interested in the job at the early stage, otherwise they will pull her to their den and eat her alive. This is exactly what they are doing now.

    May 13, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  2. bill

    Bring it on GOP!! You drove this country into the Great Recession and you killed thousands of Americans with your war in Iraq. You have a poor political, fiscal, economic and social track record in this country and you have no credibility to attack anyone else's record! You lost every single swing state in 2012 and you will lose that and more again in 2016!

    May 13, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. Data Driven

    Average Americans are profoundly uninterested in this story, I deem. Quite rightly, they have dismissed it as early political interference against a possible Clinton campaign in 16. The narrative of this is already shifting to pure politics in which Clinton is simply being targeted, rather than as an honest investigation. It's a loser, conservatives. If I were you - and I'm glad I'm not, as it appears that a conservative political philosophy merely contributes to a sense of unending, dyspeptic grievance - I'd focus on the IRS story.

    May 13, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  4. Ted Ward

    The evidence so far shows that the administration fabricated a cover story about the true nature of the Benghazy embassy attack in order to enhance its chances for reelection. This was a concerted effort of the president, UN ambassador Rice, and the Department of State including the Secretary of State. Rice went so far as to contradict the leader of Libya by saying it wasn't a terrorist attack but was a demonstration that got out of hand. This has turned out to be a lie. Plus the department whose job it is to carry out diplomacy instead embarrassed our Libyan friends who were trying to help us in the matter. All in all a real mess that needs investigating, especially when four State employees died as a result. Hillary's "what difference does it make" ( with both hands waving) remarks demonstrate a stunning lack of respect for the deceased, their families, and the diplomats of this nation.

    May 13, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  5. Buckaroo Bill

    Who was in direct charge when the Benghazi incident happened?
    Find out what went wrong and fix it. We need to learn from our mistakes and make sure it doesn't happen again.

    May 13, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  6. JCDenton

    LOL the Republican's have had like 10,000 of these incidents while they were on watch. Lets start with 9/11 as number one and start racking up the rest of the through two stupid wars and a million other situations. What a bunch of idiots. The USA doesn't have a party for sane fiscal conservatives to vote for, only a lunatic party full of bullies who just want power and to win, win, win, win, not to actually lead the country and push progress.

    May 13, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. lmc3

    I cannot believe that Ms Clinton and even Mr Obama were not made aware of the situation in Benghazi as it was happening. I can believe that aid was not sent during the first attack because it would not be there in time. I can believe that aid was not sent to rescue and assist the consulate and that orders were given to "stand down" to those who were ready to go. Someone gave those orders and, considering the situation, it was not some low level grunt. I can believe that that a decision was made at a very high level to downplay the Muslim terrorist involvement in the attack. At this point the 3 mistake rule kicks in...1-Failure to supply sufficient security in the first place; 2-The "stand down" order for aid and rescue during the second attack; 3-the cold decision to not tell the American people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The clear object of political survival over the truth of "we screwed up big time" is dishonorable.

    May 13, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  8. JustMe

    And don't even get me started on why they are making such a huge deal on these deaths (which were absolutely a horrible, terrible thing and a tragedy) that happened to people working and living in one of the most dangerous areas of the world and ignoring the deaths of 26 others, including 20 children that occurred in an elementary school in a small town in Connecticut?

    May 13, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  9. freckledtrout

    This makes me want to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 just in spite. I wouldn't have wanted to otherwise.

    May 13, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Wrong Strategy

    This is truly a Republican witch hunt. They are so desperate to win an election that they will try to say whatever they can to win the White House but the voting public is not fooled. They know this is their main trick to use when the going gets rough, their attempt at hurling accusations that are unfounded, and they will soundly reject and defeat CONServatives in 2016 and before. This continued talk about implicating Hillary Clinton can only cast further darkness on a once buoyant and lighter political party that now continues to spiral downward due to their egregious and miscalculated actions.

    May 13, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  11. Steven Harnack

    Republicans walk a fine line? Hahahahah. Never in a million years! These guys hunt flies with shotguns!

    May 13, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  12. Norman

    I am a conservative. If Hillary runs for office, I will proudly display a bumper sticker that says: "WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE..."

    May 13, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  13. skeklach

    I love how all these liberals are so eager to crucify Bush for Iraq – when democrat leaders were calling on him to take action (Hillary included), but when Benghazi gets bungled, it's partisan for the GOP to question those that were supposed to be in charge. Yes, part of these Republicans are doing so for political gain (McCain is a prime example), but Benghazi has been an issue since September and both Pauls along with several others were calling for attention to be shined upon the matter, only for it to be ignored by the media. But now that it's not a story of Democrats screwing up, but rather the mean ole Republicans picking on Hillary, CNN covers the story.

    Stay classy, CNN.

    May 13, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  14. JustMe

    And also it is important to note that those working at the consulate in Benghazi knew full well of the dangers and that something like this could potentially happen each day they went to work. Kids going to elementary school in Connecticut should feel safe.

    May 13, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. ed dugan

    The GOP keeps making the same mistakes, time after time and I, for one, am grateful. I hope they keep it up forever. They ALWAYS go into a battle of wits half-armed.

    May 13, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. Chuck

    The GOP is walking a fine must be kidding, there have been so many laws
    broken by this adminstration it would take 10 years of trials to sort it out.

    May 13, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. Bobby

    I'm so sick and tired of the "it's politically driven" crap. Look, this administration has had a couple department leaders who have had MAJOR issues while they were in charge. Eric Holder = Fast and Furious. Hillary Clinton = Benghazi attacks. If it isn't their fault directly, then whose fault is it? For her to say "what difference does it make if it was planned or spontaneous"...well it matters to the families of the dead. It matters to an America who is growing tired of a non-transparent gov't who claims to be the most transparent. If seeking truth is "political"...then I applaud the GOP for being so political. Remember that the whistle blowers came out with the new people from within the ranks are now fed up with the they're risking it all for truth. Quit being so party blind and quit taking everything this prez and his cronies say as gospel...start digging and find the truth.

    May 13, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  18. roger

    Let's not have any accountability here okay? Why should the GOP go after Clinton. Just because she was the head of the State Department? Let's go after the janitor. He threw out precious e-mails that were supposed to go to Clinton. There now we got the culprit.

    May 13, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  19. ollie

    Prosecute these traitorous liars. ALL OF THEM.

    May 13, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  20. andy

    Its not optimal – Obama. (That mean Obama can let them die and desert them).

    May 13, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  21. Sean

    I am still astounded by the level of hate and tactics which are waged for political gain in our government. Republicans lack credibility with this Benghazi incident because they seem predisposed to continue beating dead horses (e.g. – the constant votes to repeal Obamacare). It seems painfully obvious, the motive here is to find something that sticks, in an effort to make their political foes look bad. This does not serve the best interests of the country.

    May 13, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  22. nomad2003

    the repubs did NOT reduce the funding for security, only decreased the size of the increase... billions were spent.
    Why did Ms. Clinton choose to spend millions on electric car chargers in Austria than in security?

    there is only one war now, bush's agreement with Iraq ended the Iraq war. match the suicide rates to the Vietnam war (a dem war)

    Obama told the mother of one the Benghazi dead, lied right to her face, that it was a riot.

    We do not know if Ms Clinton will run... Perhaps the blow to the head when she fell will stop her?
    Yet Obama still keeps fund raising... in 5 years, Obama leads in fund raising events 2 to 1 for Bush's eight years.
    to bad Obama will DOUBLE the debt 10 to 20 trillion... in 8 years, more debt than the previous two hundred years.

    And where is the illegal activity of the IRS on this site....

    May 13, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  23. NOVA703

    The Republicans are trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Americans have a short attention span. Nobody cares about Benghazi.

    May 13, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  24. RoyalT

    I think we all would agree that this should be investigated. But Republicans appear to be letting this story take precedence over some serious issues we have in our country. If they can only be as aggressive with education, immigration and creating jobs we would be a whole lot better off.

    May 13, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  25. Farmer

    In reality... we don't have a foreign policy.
    Liberal media and left did everything to help Obama's re-election.

    Our current foreign policy has no substance to support Obama's big titles.

    May 13, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
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