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The 800-page document released by the Republicans on the House select committee on Benghazi brought to a close a fiercely partisan, two-year, $7m investigation that included interviews with more than 80 witnesses. The report reveals new details about the night of the attack and concludes that the Obama administration failed to recognize the possibility of it happening.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, his state department colleague Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed when Islamist militants stormed the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. Controversy has raged ever since over the chain of events and how much support the men had from Washington.
The White House noted tersely that this was the eighth congressional committee to investigate the attacks and went on longer than the 9/11 commission and the committees designated to look at Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the Iran-Contra affair and Watergate. It accused Republicans of pursuing “wild conspiracy theories”.
Committee chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, denied that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Clinton was the target. “When the select committee was formed, I promised to conduct this investigation in a manner worthy of the American people’s respect, and worthy of the memory of those who died,” he said.
“That is exactly what my colleagues and I have done. Now, I simply ask the American people to read this report for themselves, look at the evidence we have collected, and reach their own conclusions.”
But a split emerged among Republicans on the committee. Two members, Jim Jordan and Mike Pompeo, issued a 48-page supplementary report more forthright in its criticism. It says: “What we did find was a tragic failure of leadership – in the run-up to the attack and the night of – and an administration that, so blinded by politics and its desire to win an election, disregarded a basic duty of government: tell the people the truth. And for those reasons Benghazi is, and always will be, an American tragedy.”
Jordan, from Ohio, and Pompeo, from Kansas, were equally blunt in their condemnation of Clinton in particular. “Secretary Clinton and the administration told one story privately – that Benghazi was a terrorist attack – and told another story publicly – blaming a video-inspired protest,” they wrote.
Pressed on whether he believed that Clinton lied, Gowdy declined to give a direct answer, telling journalists to read the report. “You’re going to have to decide that for yourself,” he said.
The committee’s Democrats, who have long derided the investigation as politically motivated, on Monday released their own report on the committee’s findings.
“Although the select committee obtained additional details that provide context and granularity, these details do not fundamentally alter the previous conclusions,” the Democrats’ report said.
Donald Trump has used the incident to discredit Clinton’s time at the helm of the state department. In a speech last week, he said Clinton “spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched. Among the victims was our late ambassador Chris Stevens”.
And on Tuesday Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, weighed in: “The new information in the majority’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack makes clear that Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration engaged in a politically motivated cover-up weeks before the 2012 presidential election.
“Hillary Clinton knew the night of the attack it had nothing to do with an internet video, and yet she shamefully peddled this false narrative to the American public and to the victims’ families. This in itself is a disqualifying act of deception.”
Clinton, campaigning in Denver, said: “I understand that after more than two years and $7m spent by the Benghazi committee under taxpayer funds, it had to today report that it had found nothing – nothing – to contradict the conclusions that the independent accountability board, or the conclusions of the prior multiple earlier investigations carried out on a bipartisan basis in the Congress.”
She added: “So while this unfortunately took on a partisan tinge, I want us to stay focused on what I’ve always wanted us to stay focused on, and that is the important work of diplomacy and development.”
The Democratic nominee added: “That’s especially true in dangerous places. We cannot withdraw or retreat from the world. America needs a presence for a lot of reasons, and the best way to honor the commitment and sacrifice of those we’ve lost is to redouble our efforts to provide resources and support that our diplomats and development groups deserve. So, I’ll leave it to others to characterize this report, but I think it’s pretty clear that it’s time to move on.”
In Washington, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, condemned the report claiming it dealt in “politically motivated fantasies” and accused Republicans of “cynically trying to capitalise on the deaths of four innocent Americans who were killed overseas”.
Asked if he believed this finally drew a line under the Benghazi issue, Earnest replied: “I thought it was over after the first five investigations. This was the eighth.”
He called on the Republican National Committee to correctly report the in-kind contributions for the $7m investigation in its next filing with the Federal Election Commission.
In October, Clinton endured 11 hours of questioning by the House select committee, and was roundly commended for her performance during the marathon hearing while the chairman was criticized for failing to produce any new information about the 2012 attack.
The hearing was a turning point for Clinton’s campaign. On the trail, Democrats still refer to her grace-under-fire performance as a testament to her endurance and ability to withstand and overcome partisan attacks.
The report faults the military for its slow response sending resources to the Libyan city during the deadly 2012 attacks on a US outpost, despite clear orders from Barack Obama and the then US defense secretary Leon Panetta.
Gowdy said “nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost eight hours after the attacks began”.
He said the Libyan forces that evacuated Americans from the CIA annex in Benghazi were not affiliated with any of the militias the CIA or state department had developed a relationship with during the previous 18 months.
Gowdy said on Tuesday that the report documents that the US was slow to send help to the Americans in Benghazi “because of an obsession with hurting the Libyans’ feelings”.
He said the report was not aimed at Clinton, but portrays “series of heroic acts” by Americans under attack “and what we can do to prevent” other assaults.
The Democrats’ report released on Monday saying that while the state department’s security measures in Benghazi the night of 11 September 2012 were “woefully inadequate”, Clinton never personally turned down a request for additional security. Democrats said the military could not have done anything differently that night to save the lives of the Americans.
On Tuesday, the panel’s Democrats denounced the Republicans’ report as “a conspiracy theory on steroids – bringing back long-debunked allegations with no credible evidence whatsoever”.
The state department also issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that the “essential facts” of the attacks “have been known for some time”, and have been the subject of numerous reviews, including one by an independent review board.