(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."
I would rather be walking a "fine line" than a tight rope act right now. This will bring down Clinton. First Bill now Hillary....this family are LIARS!!
Typical GOP tactics....try to tarnish the person they are most afraid of for 2016...shameful.
"...Conservatives to damage her so badly so she would never be elected to any public office," say Tea Party Thomas. Wow!! What an agenda for America!! I have news for you: Mrs. Clinton will be elected in spite of all your dirty tricks. In fact, she will be elected for two term (eight years). You should get used to her brand of "Socialism" that brings prosperity to America and a government that looks out for the average citizen.
@Daniel D Janson – The democratic party it is not just a party it is a religion and one knows that their religion is pure. The pipe piper plays and many follow to his sweet promises.
You must get your info from that bastion of independent reporting [like many uninformed posters here] – foreign-owned Fux News Entertainment. The fascist neo-con Teapugs are forming glee-clubs in anticipation of making Obama's administration look bad once again. The Party of family values elects yet another lying, cheating, thieving Repug in SC and the right is having a field day over Benghazi. Which, BTW, Hiliary already accepted responsibility for. The witch hunt is not about the truth, it's about making sure Hilary is damaged goods for 2016. That a political party would stoop to those levels amazes me that they have not all been tried for treason. Party ahead of countty?? Despicalbe.
Oh, and BTW, it's "PIED" piper. Dip.
@Chuck – The GOP is walking a fine line...................you must be kidding, there have been so many laws
broken by this adminstration it would take 10 years of trials to sort it out.
OK chuck, name one broken law ?
What's that sly old fox Hillary trying to hide?
Where was all the Republican outrage when there were NUMEROUS EMBASSY ATTACKS DURING THE BUSH YEARS? This is just Republican obstructionism, lies, witch hunts, and fear. They're so scared of Hillary Clinton that they have to resort to this circus of attack and obfuscation. Darrell Issa is just the ringmaster.
I see all the paid trolls are here today. The mother of one of the CIA members in Benghazi was on TV (Fox ofcourse no other channel wants to publish the real events) and she too was asking Billiary to come clean. She spent Mother's day alone thinking about the son she lost while Billary worries if this will taint her presidential bid. Wow you dems sure have a lot of heart.
It's the "talking points" say Graham, McCain et al GOPer witch hunting cry babies. They didn't hear what they wanted to talk about so now that is the issue. The stupid "talking points".
Saying Clinton is responsible for the Benghazi lies is as crazy as saying George W Bush is responsible for the Iraq War lies.
No one believes that Benghazi was preventable, and while it appears to hindsight to be something that could have been mitigated – hindsight is always 20/20.
The real issue here is, and continues to be, the manipulation of intellegence and PRs, not for national security, but for the security of the political campaign of the incumbent candidate.
""Hillary Clinton's not a target. President Obama is not a target. " Does anyone on either side actually believe that? It's an attempt to smear the leading Democratic candidate as seen by the GOP, in hopes of getting near the White House once more. Useless because Benghazi is a red herring and because Bill's gonna die and Hillary's gonna retire. She won't be the candidate, and they will look like fools for pushing this Benghazi Theory.
How can CNN be so predictably dumb.
This is not a tit for tat or a partisan game. This is a critical international ISSUE, not just a domestic one. Not just an issue in regard to questioning Barack Obama's "popularity or whatever CNN is feeling uber sensitive about.
This country needs to step up and investigate Benghazi – we still don't know what happened and why. And four souls were sacrificed during that attack – and those Americans deserve their deaths being reviewed and fully scrutinized. No matter how that bodes for the "popularity contest" that is CNN's view of the Obama Administration.
The country came together – both parties – to investigate Watergate. Our leaders, ALL OF THEM, can achieve the standards for a full investigation of what went on in regard to Benghazi – using the same TRANSPARENT congressional standards. FYI CNN – try focusing on why dems back in D.C. are not more ethically engaged in all of it – and intent on getting to the very, very bottom of all of it. How about that?
911 caused more deaths under george b. He should be in jail by now!!
Holding someone accountable for doing their job? What a novel concept. What a pathetic attempt to deflect accountability from those in charge.
Are the Republicans incapable of winning on their merits? Are they really this afraid of Hillary Clinton?
What are certain things that bother me about the recent Oversight Committee hearing. First and foremost, the 1961 Vienna Convention hold that the host country is responsible for proving security for embassies. While it is understandable that Libya was recovering from a civil war, nevertheless did Mr. Hicks who was the Deputy Chief of Mission to Libya ever made an attempt to seek immediate help from the local police or military before he supposedely waited from help from U.S. military that was far away in Italy? In his testimony, he sure as hell didn't shed light on his efforts or lack thereof to get immediate help from the locals. So whay didn't he? I'd sure like to know and I just wished Mr. Cummings and other democrats had cross examined him.
O' and by the way, what I also find annoying about Mr. Hicks testimony is that while he had the nerve to question Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey's assertion that it would have takedn 20 hours to scramble jets from Italy's Aviano Air Base to Benghazi. According to Mr. Hicks, he believed the militaru could have gotten to Benghazi in 3 hours. Well, remember how long it took our Air Force to scramble jets after the first Twin Tower was attacked on 9/11? The 9/11 terrorists hit 3 of their four targets on 9/11 while the 4th went down in Shanksville PA and our military which was only minutes away couldn't get there to intercept the planes. Total right wing garbage!
I have to give the GOP credit, for one thing: They have made hypocrisy into an art form, and they really mastered it. After that there is nothing that is positive that can be associated with them: They don't know how to govern, they only can obstruct. They don't believe in evolution, that is why it didn't catch up with them. They love wars, and they would welcome any opportunity to start one, which of course none of them with any justification. Oh, one more credit: They are the biggest circus in the USA with lots of clowns: Boehner, Palin, Trump, Santorum, Gingrich, Graham, McCain, Ryan, Rove, Paul, Coulter, the list goes on and on. The circus is sponsored by two men and therefore it will carry their name: The Koch Brothers!
Everyone knows this is merely a witch hunt.
I just wonder how much money the republicans are wasting on this?
It was a tragedy, but it was also something that happens on a regular basis with diplomatic missions to war zones.
When a Gates (a Republican secretary of state) says they would have done nothing different, then maybe you should listen. This will hurt them in the end.
Ayotte was the cheif desider on gun registration vote, that she ducked out of so she has no credability. Neither does Rand Paul, the so called "libertarian" who sees liberty for everyone, as long as you look exactly like him, white hetrosexual male. No liberty for women, minorites and the gay community. And al you yelling for accountability, where were you voices after 9/11? Hum? Not a word about accountability then was there. Mistakes were made, we are human beings, that happens with our species. They were not intened, they did not happen all over the place, it happend one time in one location, and you need to stop what is so clearly a witch hunt.
Republicans are walking a fine line because of another debacle that Issa isn't proud of and that of Eric Holders hearings on Fast,Furious that cost millions in taxpayers dollars for one lone border patrol agent,nothing found,what nonsense..Bushs wars created by lies and thousands of American,allied military ,innocent Iraqi civilians died and nothings done,where's the justice system when Americans need it !!Bush,Cheney indicted in over 150 countrys but ours of human rights violations and we're supposided to be the example of truth,fairness,justice and the American way,not here under republicans majority the party that keeps on destroying our American values for a simple buck ,just a party of pathedic losers that's all!!And watch the Benghazi hearings that Issa is chairing,just another fact that yes republicans can run a dog and pony show!!!
If she weren't going to be the next President of the United States the GOP would not be paying so much attention to this issue. We know Hillary didn't screw it up. Perhaps someone did; however, she is too smart for this. She has weathered many storms, been the best Secretary of State we have had and will be the first female President of the United States,
GOP and their dirty tricks are at it again.
now i will vote for hillary in the nex elections
this is the death nells of the gop. they cant do any better, they have screwed up congress so bad hell wouldn't have it. and who always fixes things? yep, the dems. this society is close to a civil war, not yet, but when things get worse, look out.