May 12th, 2013
04:35 PM ET
11 months 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. Chris Bourne

    Well after 3 congressional hearings and an indipendent hearing, all the repugs have are what if's and maybe's. If you want to beat Clinton in 2016 you are going to have to do a lot better than Romney this time!!!

    May 12, 2013 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  2. SkyKing169

    Failure?
    She reversed 8 years of international distrust in the USA, renewing international friendships that had been destroyed. In a global economy, and a digital age, where we are all connected almost instantly, no nation needs enemies, especially the US.
    As far as Benghazi, the Administration asked Congress for funding for security and putting political ideology ahead of the American people, Congress refused. They may have succeeded in making the public question the administration's competence, but Congress is the real reason behind the 4 dead Americans, and they will tell us anything to try to make us not notice that.

    May 12, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  3. Jim

    So...predictably Senator Ayotte is labeled as "R., New Hampshire", but Durbin is just Durbin. No bias here. Nothing to see. Thankfully there's other news outlets that can tell you that this isn't a "new" issue, but one that the democrat party and their allies, CNN/MSNBC/CBS/ABC have been trying to suppress for 8 months...and finally have to get onboard because the rest of the country already knows how the coverup is going to damage Obama and Clinton.

    May 12, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  4. Fizzy

    Sad thing is you re absolutely right . But, you got someone better ?

    May 12, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  5. Smeagel4T

    "Hillary Clinton's not a target. President Obama is not a target." - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! And NOBODY in the country believes him. If anybody in the country were to actually believed him, all the right wing extremists would be irate at the GOP for NOT making Hillary and Obama political targets.

    I still want to know why the GOP refuses to investigate why the 60 deaths at diplomatic facilities under Bush were never investigated by congress. Why is the GOP not issuing subpoenas for congressional communications to investigate whether the lack of the congressional oversight of those 60 deaths was potentially politically motivated.

    Why is the GOP not investigating the link between the critical underfunding of the State Department, and potential links between that underfunding and the ongoing series of deaths at diplomatic facilities under BOTH Republican AND Democratic administrations. The American public needs to know whether congress' failure to properly fund the State Department may be the root cause for those ongoing deaths regardless of the president at the time. The GOP needs to call retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates (Republican) so he can further elaborate on his repeated claims that the State Department has been critically underfunded while the Pentagon has been consistently overfunded. Why is the GOP refusing to investigate this?

    May 12, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  6. bspurloc

    we have no one better than Clinton. lets go with Mittens again.
    wah wah benghazi. 5000+ dead 50000+ wounded by george wmd bush. a MILLION Veterans waiting a year + for benefits but wah wah benghazi.

    May 12, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  7. Bush

    Where were these thorough investigators when all the embassies were attacked during the previous administration? Several attacks, and many more deaths, but silence then. Just saying....

    May 12, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  8. Dave

    Run Rand Paul in 2016....... and guarantee another Democratic president in the White House.

    May 12, 2013 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  9. GI Joe

    Fine Line? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    We read the comments on blogs - Independents are tired of the personal attacks and the lies of the republicans, so I know the democrats must be also. Not to mention the derogatory words used against black, Hispanics, and anyone who even acts like they don't worship RR.

    May 12, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  10. Steve Allard

    Bush was a failure and won a second term so your logic, even if right, doesn't follow GOP history.

    May 12, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  11. luvUamerica

    What do you mean walk a fine line. From day 1, this was all about going after Hillary Clinton. It took them this long to get here, with a Bush appointee filling charges. How can one take anything that the House Republicans do? They have come after the President from Day 1. Anything he did was a coverup. They have been throwing every kind of crap, but no stuck. The re-election is over, so they are going after Hillary Clinton, because they probably believe, she is their biggest threat in the next election. Walking a fine line? They can walk any line they want, but that is all this is. A poltical scheme to taint a strong Democratic challenger.

    And what are they in Congress for? To reduce costs? To fix things? Well, they are walking a thin line of credibility here.

    May 12, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  12. Studypeople

    Pres. George W. Bush was warned while on vacation in Texas.... A month before 9/11. That Al Qaeda was determined to attack the American Soil. Did Pres. George W. Bush do anything about that warning..... NO! I wonder why the Republicans never investigated, charged, or slam Pres. George W. Bush for failing to "Try" to protect the United States?

    May 12, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  13. Bedoin

    I am not now and never have been a Hilary fan, but this is too transparent an attempt by the fumbling, frustrated, GOP to discredit her.

    May 12, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  14. CC

    These hearing are 100 percent politics and nothing more, it's time to move on.

    May 12, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  15. skippingdog57

    I've read this post several times now, and still see absolutely no reference to the basic fact that Benghazi was never a real consulate and had no diplomatic status. It was a front operation for the CIA operation to recover heavy weapons and MANPADS that were stolen from the Libyan military after their revolution. According to numerous published reports at the time, the Benghazi consulate and annex had only 7 State Department employees on site, with the other 40 + U.S. personnel being CIA employees involved in the the weapons security operations.

    These basic facts keep being left out of the reporting, with the focus instead on why the cover story initially provided by Amb. Rice wasn't factual. Can none of you put both halves of this together? If nothing else, just Google "Benghazi CIA Stevens" and read the reports from September and October of 2012. All of that seems to have disappeared into the election and the current effort to discredit Clinton in some way.

    May 12, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  16. OGreen

    It is not the decision of the Secretary of State to use military force. That decision is made by the Pentagon. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there were no military assets available that could have arrived in time to have stopped the attack

    In all likelihood the U. S. Special Operations Command Africa(SOCAFRICA) or the United States Africa Command(AFRICOMM) ordered the four Special Operation troops at the Tripoli Embassy not to go to Benghazi, it was not Secretary Clinton. The reason they were ordered to stand down was because they were needed for security reasons in the Tripoli which is 400 miles from Benghazi.

    In addition, the S.O.'s at the Tripoli Embassy were on a worldwide 'fact finding' mission the purpose of which was to gather information to improve security at U.S. diplomatic installations around the world. They did not have combat gear and were not equipped for combat. The only weapons they had were their 9mm side arms.

    This is what Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to say on the CNN program "State Of The Union", Feb. 3rd 2013, concerning the military response to the Benghazi attack:

    DEMPSEY: You know, it wasn't a seven-hour battle. It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect. And the nearest - for example, the nearest aircraft - armed aircraft, happened to be in Djibouti, the distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. There is some significant physics involved. And the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time. [CNN, State of the Union, 2/3/13]

    Secretary Clinton has publically accepted full responsibility for the Benghazi tragedy. However I believe it is certainly worth noting that the security of U.S. State Department installations around the world is overseen be career personnel and not by the Office of the Secretary of State itself. Also, It must be said that there has been a move over the last few years to economize the States Departments security budget including votes in the U.S. House of Representatives to cut the security budget by ten's of millions of dollars. Although the U.S. Senate in at least two instances voted to restore House of Representative budget cuts, there has been an ongoing trend to cut the State Departments security budget.

    May 12, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  17. nru

    ok – so why should we believe any of them

    May 12, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  18. Evergreen

    We can't keep our citizens here in the US safe from violence. Our elected officials should be holding hearings on why the attackers have not been found and making sure any breach in security is corrected.

    May 12, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  19. James

    I just don't understand these talk radio nuts and the idiotic fix news crowd. The country has bigger problems and the American public overwhelmingly thinks Benghazi was a failure of intelligence but it pales in comparison to Iraq. So stop with it. The Lindsey Graham's, Sean hannitys, George noorys and he Bryan suits all need to get a life and stop with the idiotic conspiracy theories. Republicans are a dying party and ths will not help them.

    May 12, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  20. Nat Reader

    ,"mission accomplished"

    Iraq has WMDs

    11 attacks on US embassies during Bush's presidency

    Give it a break....talking point chages?..protest..terrorist....whatever

    May 12, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  21. Nat Reader

    Sadly the republicans and Limbaugh are the only ones that care.....how about hearings on congressional kickbacks?

    May 12, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  22. Scott

    Clinton was following Obama's directives....she's going to take the fall for him on the Cover Up. However she has proven to be an awful Manager of people. She is not capable of running our country!

    May 12, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  23. Cynical View

    The author was incessantly giggling while writing this "article", right?

    May 12, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  24. Reasonably

    How quickly the GOP forgets of the war they created in the name of "good intelligence."

    But then – this is politics...why would we expect anything more from them?

    May 12, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  25. Tim Cash

    Unbelievable that CNN is downplaying this as a political manuver by the GOP! It's way more than is being reported here, and the fact that three whistle-blowers are blowing the top off this story is proof that the administration deflected the true story to the public by promoting a stupid video instead of admitting that it was terrorism!

    May 12, 2013 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
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