WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday released their long-awaited report on the fatal attacks in Benghazi, concluding then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her team failed to act on intelligence that warned of the risks posed by violent extremists.
There's no bombshell revelation in the GOP-led committee's 800-page report, which offers a more detailed look at the bureaucratic failings revealed by previous inquiries. Still, the pages of criticism of Clinton's response to security concerns before the attack and her handling of the aftermath are sure to provide fresh fodder against the Democratic presidential candidate in a particularly nasty election.
"Washington had access to real-time information, but that real-time information did not inform or instruct the decisions made," said committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., at a news conference on Capitol Hill in which he repeatedly urged Americans to read the report.
The assault on U.S. posts in eastern Libya in September 2012 killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American colleagues: Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
"It's not clear what additional intelligence would have satisfied either Kennedy or the Secretary in understanding the Benghazi mission compound was at risk — short of an attack," the report stated, referring to Clinton and a top aide, Patrick Kennedy.
Findings highlighted by the committee underline members' assertions that administration officials didn't act with the urgency required of such a grave crisis.
With Stevens still missing, the White House convened a two-hour meeting where, according to the committee's account, officials were undecided about whether to deploy military assets and seemed preoccupied with seeking Libyan approval for any such rescue operation. A senior Defense Department official who should've been at the meeting, the committee said, "did not attend because he went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries."
The committee also learned a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST, sat on a plane in Rota, Spain, for three hours, with service members changing in and out of their uniforms four times as Washington officials debated the protocol for sending in U.S. forces.
"Despite President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost eight hours after the attacks began," the committee said.
While the committee's work has been criticized by the Democrats as a Clinton witch hunt, the findings assign blame far beyond her State Department; actions of the Pentagon, FBI and intelligence community also were critiqued. The report found "the response to the attacks suffered from confusion and miscommunication circulating between agencies."
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said the Republicans are finishing their work in "the same partisan way that we've seen from them since the beginning."
"After more than two years and more than $7 million in taxpayer funds, the committee report has not found anything to contradict the conclusions of the multiple, earlier investigations," he said in a statement. "This report just confirms ... this committee's chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign."
Republicans created the Select Committee on Benghazi in May 2014 to examine U.S. government policies that might have contributed to the attacks and to evaluate the response of the Obama administration, including Clinton. They said Democrats refused to cooperate.
A total of 107 witnesses were interviewed for the report, including 81 never before questioned by Congress and nine eyewitnesses to the attacks. The committee also received and reviewed more than 75,000 new pages of documents.
"It makes clear that officials in Washington failed our men and women on the ground when they were in need of help. And the report makes key recommendations for how we can prevent such a tragedy from happening again," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Two conservative members of the committee, Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, released a joint statement saying the report reveals "a tragic failure of leadership," with an administration failing to fulfill its duties because it was "so blinded by politics and its desire to win an election."
House Democrats released their own 339-page report, accusing the Republicans of providing distorted accusations for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump to use against Clinton.
"The Republican Benghazi report seems like a conspiracy theory on steroids — bringing back long-debunked allegations with no credible evidence whatsoever," the Democrats said in a statement Tuesday. "To this day, the Republicans are still withholding transcripts from Democrats and the American people that contradict their conspiracy theories. Republicans promised a process and report that was fair and bipartisan, but this is exactly the opposite."
The Democrats reiterated there was nothing the State Department and the Pentagon could have done differently on the night of the attacks that would've saved the lives of the four Americans. They acknowledged the State Department's security in Benghazi was inadequate but said Clinton "never personally denied any requests for additional security" from Americans in Libya.
Clinton delivered what was widely considered a strong public performance at an 11-hour grilling in October in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. With no watershed revelation announced Tuesday, she is unlikely to be hurt by the committee's report, though she still faces what could be a more troubling monthslong FBI inquiry into the handling of sensitive information while she was secretary of state.
Clinton has said in public testimony — before House and Senate panels in 2013 and in the marathon hearing last October — that she took responsibility for the State Department's handling of Benghazi by "moving quickly in those first uncertain hours" to respond to the immediate crisis and then, in the aftermath, by launching an independent investigation to find out what happened and "to recommend steps for improvement."
Professional fact-checkers have chided Clinton for her claim, in a TV interview last year, that several Republican-led inquiries had "reached conclusions that, first of all, I and nobody did anything wrong, but there were changes we could make." PolitiFact called that "the best possible spin" on findings that showed inadequate security in Benghazi and a muddled response from Washington.
Seven other congressional committees and the bipartisan, independent Accountability Review Board already have looked into the assault. Nearly all of them criticized the Clinton State Department as insufficiently addressing security issues at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Clinton testified twice before Congress on the Benghazi attacks in 2013.
The review board portrayed a total system breakdown in the Benghazi attacks: an inadequate number of security agents; a lack of protective equipment; and officials who failed to appreciate and craft a response to the city's rapidly deteriorating security situation.
State Department officials say they've implemented nearly 70 measures that were recommended by the review board, including expanded training for diplomats, improved security at high-risk outposts and better fire prevention. New diplomatic security positions were created and, in conjunction with the Defense Department, 17 new Marine Corps detachments were deployed to help guard posts abroad.
Gowdy, whose panel discovered Clinton's exclusive use of a private email system for government business, dismissed as incomplete all previous Benghazi inquiries, saying they'd failed to interview key witnesses and access many documents.
He long has complained about the lack of cooperation from the Obama administration. Republicans tried to ask President Barack Obama a series of questions about the attack, but in recent days attorneys urged him not to answer the committee's questions "because of the implications of his response on the constitutional separation of powers."