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. rino

    The GOP should go after Hilary. Pls. do put everything out there that could back around election time to show how vil the GOP are trying to profit from the death of american for their self serving cause. Pls. do go ahead, while we take notes. And pls. , Pls. bring Bachman and Palin into this scandal. We dems really need them in this scandal debate.

    May 12, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  2. keeth

    "I think" does not equal fact, Mr. McCain.

    May 12, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. Ann Blanco

    Bengazi- O.K. I teach my kids that lying is never OK ever! So if your a republican or democrat you should be angered that this administration completely spun a lie that was so huge it can't lie itself out of it. Yes they lied to the American public point blank and they were not even good at it! Hello it was 9-11 people. I really wish the media would stop being so PC and report the damn news.This needs full coverage by all news channels. Whats more important your polital party or your right to the truth? Nixon is angel compared to this guy. I want justice for the lives lost. The Lybia president told the truth from day one & stated in public he knew nothing about any video protest & was shocked at that statement. Come on Ted Turner report on this! You can do it. It's good news!

    May 12, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  4. Jon

    This is clearly a political stunt on the part of Issa and his cronies.

    May 12, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  5. texasnotea

    Issa got clobbered on Sunday TV. No answers, just stammering to cover up his agenda.

    May 12, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. dr. j

    The smell of desperation from the GOP.

    May 12, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  7. Robin Jones

    When someone is running an organization this critical and that organization screws up in several major ways, that leader is responsible whether they personally made the bad decisions themselves or not. You cannot possibly make every decision yourself, so you must build an organization capable of handling matters appropriately. That's the job. When you're in charge and it happens on your watch, you own it.

    May 12, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  8. fekt

    Where is David Patreus at in this side show? You know, the director of the CIA at the time. The CIA being the agency responsible for vetting the millitia the US had contracted to defend the embassy annex in case something like this occured. The same militia that decided to stay home that night and the same militia who had members that have been implicated in the attack itself. Oh, that's right, he's just an adulterer and as such could probably still win an election somewhere as a member of the GOP ticket. We can't put him up on a stand to answer any tough questions.

    May 12, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  9. Jc

    I do t see how democrats can be so appalled by republicans politicizing Benghazi. Both sides have been doing it for years. Obama politicized borrowing money to fund a war, then when the war ended he didn't stop borrowing the money. The funds that were earmarked for the Iraq war, which was by far the more expensive of the two, are still coming in and being spent. In fact, a lot of that money is now going to the state department. Liberals are just as much hypocrites as they blame the right of being. 5 years later they still blame bush for current problems without facts or details. A lot of that is a lack of education though. Take the fiscal crisis for instance. Every liberal will tell you that Bush caused the recession, but can't explain why or how. Ask them what Glass-Steagall is and none of them could tell you. Its hypocrisy at its finest?

    May 12, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  10. snowdogg

    "an independent probe of the incident."

    How many of these "probes" will be necessary? Not many, most will be Rebpubs trying to manufacture a "gotcha" moment so they can crow about how differently their party would have reacted in that situation... typical Monday morning quaterbacking.

    May 12, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  11. Canuck

    Any news on GWB's weapons of mass destruction yet? The Republican hypocrisy is alarming.

    May 12, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  12. Jack

    Hillary: I never had text with that woman (Rice).

    May 12, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  13. Jeffro211

    Is this a political witch hunt? The short answer is yes. This incident would have made it past a news cycle had it happened during a republican presidency. (bush/cheeny)

    May 12, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  14. guest

    What does it matter?

    May 12, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  15. wallstreetcrime

    Nothing like an old fashioned witch hunt by hypocrites.

    Didn't they learn their lesson with Whitewater? Jumping up and down and yelling, "Fire", doesn't mean there's a fire.

    Issa is a partisan hack and he should quit spending my tax dollars on this "inquest" and ask himself, and his peers, why funding for security at embassies was cut by Congress.

    Try disputing THAT issue, Issa. You and you cohorts put our people at risk by cutting funding for our embassy's security around the world and are now blaming everyone but yourself when a security breakdown occurs.

    Such hypocrites the GOP are. Lying, sniveling, whining hypocrites.

    May 12, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  16. William York

    Ever run a department with more than 150 employees or a company with over 1,000 employees and one of them or several of them made a wrong call? If you answer yes, then imagine the State Department with over 60,000 employees. Give me a break, do we wish we had done more to saves the lives of the four people, YES. But to say people deliberately did not do anything to help them for the purpose of a coverup makes no sense. Get real you want to be concerned about people dying? Pay attention and some focus to what is happening to our children all over the world because they do not have enough to eat each day or that they are lacking access to need medical help. Show me the concern for that and a plan to solve this....then and only then start talking about the four lives lost in Libya.

    May 12, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  17. Mike jones

    The article that should be written is: "Obama administration does obvious coverup before election and only FOX news reports the story for the first six months – how could this happen?"

    May 12, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  18. TM

    If Issa is so concerned with "how we failed", he could perhaps start with why HIS party saw fit to cut funding that would have improved security for our embassies and consulates world wide. There is plenty of blame to go around, and the Grand Old Tea Party's hands are NOT clean.

    May 12, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  19. angeson

    Keep beating that dead horse until it confesses the Obama charged into the mission and personally beheaded Ambassador Chris Stevens and Hillary drove the getaway car.

    May 12, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Yeah lets do an independent investigation but lets not interview the people who were there. Makes sense to me.

    May 12, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  21. Jack

    I never had text with that woman.(HC to SR) Sound farmilar?

    May 12, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  22. jamaal

    she WILL be president.

    May 12, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  23. Nonsensical

    She's not a target, but there is bull's eye on her back.

    May 12, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. Marsha McBlaine

    I wouldn't vote for her if she the last woman standing.

    May 12, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  25. Kurt

    Republicans treading cautiously?!? You mean like when they blundered into Iraq? Or when they insisted that Obama was born in Kenya? Or when they spent four years looking for something nefarious in whitewater? Too late, the first step they took in the direction of Spinghazi, they stepped in dog doo. They look ridiculous yet again.

    May 12, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
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