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. ObamaReigns

    ~Keep this in mind and lest we forget~..The hoffifying attacks of 9/11 occurred on Madam Speaker Condi "Mushroom Cloud" Rice's watch even though intelligence had been collected that specified that OBL was determined to attack inside the U.S. She went before congress and LIED to the American people.
    Republicans who believe that their past actions can simplify"step down memory lane hole" without anyone remembering is just plain wrong!

    May 13, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  2. tpeterson

    This is apparently their strategy for 2016. Republicans obviously can't win on their merits, so they resort to witch hunts and scandals.

    May 13, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  3. irunner

    GOP lawmaker's tactics during the Clinton administration is exactly the reason I am no longer a republican. They obviously have a major problem with the Clintons. Sadly, they have not learned the lesson that being always on the attack while ignoring this country's problems bodes ill for the GOP in elections. If Obama could win a second term, it would be a cakewalk for Hillary.

    May 13, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  4. OK FIne


    Where was all the Republican outrage when there were NUMEROUS EMBASSY ATTACKS DURING THE BUSH YEARS?


    Exactly. There were 64, but who's counting. Did Issa hold hearings on every one of those?

    May 13, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  5. KC Yankee

    True to their nature, the Republicans are working tirelessly (not to solve today's problems–not even to modernize their platform in response to social change and demographics in the U.S.) to sucker the public back into their fold for 2016.

    May 13, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  6. Evelyn Connaway

    The Republican Party and the Tea Party remind me of a bunch of rabid dogs on the attach! Where was all their rage during all the other Embassy attacks? When Obama was elected President and Clinton as Secretary of State, they started to work trying to get our country back on it's feet and work with other nations to improve our image around the world – instead of starting an investigation into the war crimes against, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the warmongers for crimes against our own country and Iraq! I think it is time to open up an investigation into the Bush regime and all involved and head to the International Court in Hague, for crimes against humanity!

    Lots of mistakes are made in during attacks and war and none are deliberate and planned for – But Bush and Cheney and their other cohorts PLANNED the attach on Iraq! The real reason Iraq's OIL not WMD's, that was their excuse!

    One thing for sure, Issa, McCain, Graham and the other GOP rabid dogs don't want an investigation into the Bush Administration, same as they didn't want one into the Reagan and the other Bush Administration. This crap going on now is not about what went wrong – it is a bunch of political hacks in Congress trying to bring down Hillary Clinton before she even runs for the White House, since they didn't stop Obama from winning his second term.

    May 13, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  7. Squidbilly

    Elephant dung or Mule's still dung in my book!

    May 13, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  8. clevercandi

    say what you will...but get ready for EIGHT years of Hillary!!!

    May 13, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  9. DC Johnny

    What is wrong with the vast number of you liberal morons with the only rebuttal being "What about the Bush embassy attacks?"

    The outrage isn't over the fact that an embassy was attacked. The outrage is a result of the clear cover-up being done by the administration and State Department to protect the upcoming election and hide any embarrassment moving forward.

    If you are too blind to know the difference between a scandal and a simple series of attacks, that's your problem. Sadly, your vote counts just as much as mine, but that's what we get in an ignorant democratic republic.

    May 13, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  10. Scott Cisney

    From a great distance, I offer this perspective. In a country recently liberated from a long time dictator, which occurred with some help from the United States, an ambassador and three others were killed in a building that was not the embassy and not protected by US marines. The building was in a city in which the CIA had a large contingent of operatives who were gathering intelligence on Al-Queda and other groups in that area. In other words, it was a dangerous area. The four guys were killed. Not 3000 like on Bush's watch. Just four. A tragedy and something that needs to be addressed in terms of additional security. We have hundreds of embassies and ambassadors around the world. The secretary of state and the president were probably unaware of the threat the ambassador was under on that day. They just can't follow the daily itineraries of the many thousands of US diplomats abroad. I mean the president is amazing, and smart, but he is not superman. I really think the independent report was good enough on this issue. Congress is just playing the game it always plays when it is not the party in white house. Look for anything and blame it on the president and his secretary of state, who wants to be president.

    May 13, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. CB


    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 |

    –Hey Chucky, why don't you look into the laws that Issa has broken?
    -illegal release of wiretap information
    -release of redacted State Dept information
    -political misuse of official funds
    -use of his public office for personal gain.
    -lying about his military record.
    -arrests for weapons charges and auto theft.
    and the list goes on. A real upstanding guy. But it's OK if you are a Republican. We are still waiting to hear what laws you think this administration has broken.

    May 13, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  12. DC Johnny

    @Evelyn Connaway

    You win the prize for least coherent debate argument of the day.

    Embassy attacks during Bush's tenure were never covered-up for political purpose, and no lies were told during them.

    War crimes against the Bush administration? Those wars were legal, as voted on and approved by a bipartisan act of Congress, as required by the Constitution.

    You have less than no idea what you're talking about, and should leave the discussion for the adults who are actually educated on the matter, and are capable of a rational, fact-based discussion sans talking-points.

    May 13, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  13. bobby frank

    Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States and these guys just can't stand the fact that it's going to happen. They are actually helping her out by being critical of such a remarkable person that is loved by majority of Americans. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with and they don't have a chance in hell of stopping her.

    May 13, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  14. Christy Yamaguci

    Somebody is scared. We better back off because ... what ? She's " Hillary the Incompetent " ? Those dammed republicans.

    May 13, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  15. Tom

    Judging by how the Repubs fared with the " One Term " thing I'm betting Hillary aint too worried.
    The NJ Gov is their best shot .... other than being a loudmouth his brand of conservationism has the best chance of appealing to the most Americans .... he is not seen as crazy .... unlike the Rand Paul types.

    May 13, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  16. Robb

    Would Benghazi have happened Obama left Qaddafi in power? I remember this being the Liberal left question when Iraq was invaded and they should have left Saddam alone! The problem is when either side is investigated by the other there has to be a political motive because we distrust the government SOOOOOOOO much! Cant any of you see this? This country will assuredly crumble if we continue to have a government we cant trust and have little to no faith in!

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  17. Dar


    Typical GOP tactics....try to tarnish the person they are most afraid of for 2016...shameful.

    Do you mean,"Kind of like what Obama did"?
    That is right out of Obama's play book!!!
    Is it OK for Obama to discredit and Lie about anyone that opposes him, but God forbid a Republican would do that.
    What's good for the goose is good for the gander!

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  18. A True Conservative

    Hmmmm....Nixon lied – no one died – he leaves office disgraced. Obama lied – people died and the left cries foul when an attempt is made to hold him accountable. Now we find that the IRS is targeting conservative groups – and the Obama machine does not own that issue either. Has this man ever accepted responsibility for anything?

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  19. Kathy

    GOP walking a thin-line? Couldn't prove it by me. I do wish people would realize that Clinton, as Sec. of State went to Congress a few months before the Benghazi attack to get more funding for security, not only for Libya, but for other embassies in harms way and the funding was denied. It could be said that this was a deliberate ploy; just in case something did happen and they could blame it on Clinton. Considering what was going on in the Middle East, this is a possibility and wouldn't put it past them to do so. This is the kind of atmosphere that abounds in politics.

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  20. Mohamiss Shafique-Kaddir

    Hillary Clinton is Islam's choice for America's President in 2016 . America is weak , and she will make America even weaker , ripe for Islamist Conquest .

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  21. Larry in Houston

    to be perfectly honest – I doubt she will ever run – she knows that she would need at least 1 billion – otherwise she ain't gonna make it.

    May 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. Anthony

    What difference does it make? This is what happened. The House (controlled by Republicans) cut funding on embassy security. The Obama Administration did not provide enough embassy security. Republicans complained about the Obama Administration trying to cover up the lack of embassy security. Well, it is not as if the Obama Administration saying that the Libya attackers had weapons of mass destruction and we need to invade Iraq.

    May 13, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  23. ghostriter

    As someone else posted, when can we start the hearings on Pat Tillman? I want to know who put out that false narrative clearly used as a propaganda piece.

    May 13, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. Foregone Conclusion

    So, Republicans don't like smear campaigns, eh? That is until it suits their own convenience. That could have sure fooled me with what they are trying to do with Hillary Clinton, a fine woman who will ultimately be proven to be Innocent of any accusations of wrong-doing. CONServatives will have to eat crow when this is all over and will sink further into the quicksand they have chosen to jump into. Just wait and see!

    May 13, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  25. annieL

    Right, Republicans. Every time there is an attack on a U.S.government office in a foreign country, fire the Secretary of State. But why stop at that level? Move on up the chain of command and fire the Senate and House committee chairmen on foreign relations and intelligence. They are the ones who hold the power to set security standards for each and every U.S. consulate, or outpost, aren't they? And fire the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations committees too. They look at departmental budget requests and decide what gets funded and what doesn't. You can't have maximum security at an embassy without the bucks to do with it. And you can't have the military effectively responding to a terrorist attack somewhere in the world without a nearby military installation, so fire the chairmen of the Armed Services Committees for not putting military installations near every State Department office for protection. And of course, impeach the president every time there is a terrorist attack on a U.S. property somewhere in the world. He is the commander-in-chief and holds the veto pen on every budget.

    May 13, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
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