Anita Kumar and Hannah Allam
WASHINGTON: After nearly four years, millions of dollars and at least eight investigations, Republicans failed to produce enough evidence to pin the Obama administration’s bungled handling of the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, squarely on Hillary Clinton, making it unlikely that the episode becomes a make-or-break challenge to her presidential bid.
Clinton still faces other hurdles in her path to the White House: a lack of enthusiasm by some Democrats, polls finding that voters think she’s not honest and a monthslong FBI inquiry into the handling of sensitive information while she was secretary of state. But after Tuesday, her campaign is not likely to hinge on the Benghazi attacks.
The latest inquiry led by Republicans in the House of Representatives revealed governmental failures. But it assigns blame across several agencies — the State Department, the Pentagon, the FBI and the intelligence community. It yielded no bombshell revelation against Clinton. Republicans have criticized her as lacking decisive leadership in responding to the crisis, and several inquiries have found that the response was delayed by miscommunications and other problems within her State Department.
“In the end, it’s not really going to change things at all,” said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron in the battleground state of Ohio. “Most people are tired of hearing about Benghazi.”
Clinton and her allies are relieved not only that there was no major new finding but also that the long list of inquiries into the attack, which killed four Americans, has finally come to an end.
Speaking at a campaign event Tuesday in Denver, Clinton took a rare question from the media. “I think it’s pretty clear it’s time to move on,” she said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the committee’s chairman, repeatedly resisted characterizing the report as a tool against the Clinton campaign. He said he’d led a neutral investigation, and he made an emotional appeal for people to read the report and draw their own conclusions.
“If you can read this report and you believe on the last page of the report that it is about one person instead of about four people, then there’s nothing I can say that’s going to disabuse you of that,” Gowdy said at a news conference. “That’s just what you believe.”
The report came from the Select Committee on Benghazi, created in May 2014 to examine U.S. government policies that may have contributed to the attacks and to evaluate the response of the Obama administration, including Clinton. Republicans said Democrats and the Obama administration refused to cooperate, though Democrats say they were shut out of the process.
A total of 107 witnesses were interviewed for the report, including 81 never before questioned by Congress and nine eyewitnesses to the attacks on U.S. posts in eastern Libya in September 2012, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The committee also received and reviewed more than 75,000 new pages of documents.
The 800-page report severely criticizes the military, CIA and administration officials for their response as the attacks unfolded, and their subsequent explanations to the American people.
On the night of Sept. 11, a large group of men rushed into the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, firing guns and setting fires. Visiting Ambassador Stevens and computer specialist Sean Smith were killed despite taking cover in a safe room.
Hours later, before dawn, mortar fire hit the CIA roof nearby, killing security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
The report found that Libyan military officers loyal to former leader Moammar Gadhafi, whom the U.S. had helped depose, had taken part in rescuing the remaining Americans.
“Not a single wheel of a single U.S. military asset had even turned toward Libya,” Gowdy said.
The committee’s five Democrats denounced the Republicans’ report as “a conspiracy theory on steroids — bringing back long-debunked allegations with no credible evidence whatsoever.”
House Democrats released their own 339-page report Monday, accusing the Republicans of providing distorted accusations for Donald Trump to use against Clinton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.