A newly-released Senate Intelligence Committee report, which found that the September 2012 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi could have been prevented, has given Republicans newfound ammunition as they seek to undermine Hillary Clinton and thwart her potential presidential candidacy in 2016.
Republicans, after all, have continually tried to blame the then-secretary of state for the tragedy, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Conservative lawmakers frequently pointed to cables from Stevens and his staff requesting more security and accused the Obama administration of deceiving the country by initially suggesting the attack was something other than terrorism.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the right would certainly use the report “to discredit” Clinton should she become the Democratic nominee. “It adds more fuel to the fire and contributes to the overall narrative of her being unfit to be president.”
Karim Mezran, a senior fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Council said because the report blames the State Department so much “it will hurt her and be utilized to blame Hillary Clinton for an oversight even though it’s clear to everyone she wasn’t directly responsible for the attack.”
Even though the bipartisan report discredits many right-wing criticisms, conservatives are already pouncing on it. The report concluded that intel analysts inaccurately cited a protest at the consulate as the reason for the attack without enough information or eyewitness accounts. But the report also said National Security Adviser Susan Rice did not deliberately mislead the public when she used those talking points.
The report also said the State Department did not sufficiently address security concerns at the consulate but states that Stevens himself rejected to offers from General Carter Ham, the head of the U.S. military’s Africa command, for protection in the month before the attacks.
The report largely echoes the findings of an independent review board, which released its findings in December of 2012. Only once in the report is Clinton’s name mentioned– in a section where Republicans on the committee share their opinion. The GOPers say Clinton is ultimately is to blame and her “failure” to act “clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”
But for all the GOP gripes about Benghazi, Republicans don’t exactly have a stellar record on funding diplomatic security,. Clinton even said in 2011, before the attacks, that inadequate diplomatic security is the direct result of Republican budget cuts.
Between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the GOP-controlled House sought to cut more than $450 million from the Obama’ Administrations budget request for embassy security funding (The Democratic-controlled Senate was able to restore about $88 million).
Despite the report blaming the State Department’s incompetence for the attack, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe wouldn’t let go of the notion that the White House officials were somehow involved in a cover-up.
He told reporters on Wednesday: “I’m familiar with cover-ups throughout history, the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, all of them.” The Republican added: “This is gonna go down as the greatest cover-up in history because the president and Susan Rice both knew it was an organized terrorist attack and deliberately sent Susan Rice to tell the American people it was not.”
Clinton, during a heated testimony in January 2013, took responsibility for not adequately protecting U.S. personnel . But she insisted the Obama administration did not try to mislead the American people. She also said that while she was aware of security issues in Benghazi, she had not personally seen an Aug. 12 request for more security.
Clinton also said that diplomats “accept a level of risk” in their jobs. “We are constantly assessing. And sometimes we get it wrong, but it’s very, it’s rare that we get it wrong,” she said.
P.J. Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs under Clinton, who’s now a professor at George Washington University, said he doubts the report would play a major role should Clinton run for president. But when it does, it will be a chance for Clinton to highlight her foreign policy experience.
“It will come up. It’s part of her record, and lots of people will be scrutinizing her record. She’ll be challenged to explain Benghazi one more time,” said Crowley. “But that will be a debate about foreign policy and the fact is that as secretary of state her national security credentials will almost certainly exceed those of her opponents. She would welcome that debate.”