House accuses Clinton of lying, approving lax Benghazi security

The chairmen of five House committees today in an interim report to Speaker John Boehner, R-Oh, accused former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of lying to Congress about reducing security in Benghazi, Libya, before last September's attacks, vowing to continue reviewing what it described as a "cover up" over the nature of the attacks and hold administration officials accountable.

The report is a compilation of investigations by the Republican staff of five House committees: Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary. The five committees have not "officially adopted" the report, it notes. 

"The U.S. government did not deploy sufficient U.S. security elements to protect U.S. interests and personnel that remained on the ground," the chairmen found. "Senior State Department officials knew that the threat environment in Benghazi was high and that the Benghazi compound was vulnerable and unable to withstand an attack, yet the department continued to systematically withdraw security personnel. Repeated requests for additional security were denied at the highest levels of the State Department."

On March 28, 2012, then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz requested additional security in Libya. The chairmen point to an April 19, 2012, response cable bearing Clinton's signature that "instead articulates a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including the Benghazi Mission." According to the report, embassy staff interpreted this to mean that Foggy Bottom wanted a study to justify removing two security teams.

In June, Chris Stevens, the new ambassador, asked to keep the two security teams through upcoming elections, but his request was denied.

Clinton, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, said the cables never rose to her attention. Tuesday's report to Boehner included Clinton's response at the time: "Well if I could -- 1.43 million cables a year come to the State Department. They are all addressed to me. They do not all come to me. They are reported through the bureaucracy."

It's not clear who in the State Department sent the April 19 response. But as a general rule, "every single cable sent from Washington to the field is sent over the secretary of state's name," a former State Department official noted, adding, "Though they are trying to make this new, it's not. After 30+ hearings and briefings, thousands of pages, this has all been addressed."

The chairmen pin ultimate responsibility on President Barack Obama for failing "to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense."

After the attacks, the chairmen argued, "The Administration willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a political demonstration caused by a YouTube video." 

The Republicans also criticized the president for putting the post-attack investigation in the hands of the F.B.I. instead of military and intelligence officials. The decision, they argued, "significantly delayed U.S. access to key witnesses and evidence and undermined the government's ability to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice in a timely manner."

The three main findings, according to the executive summary, are:

  • "Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23, 2013."
  • "In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the Intelligence Community in order to protect the State Department."
  • "Contrary to Administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Administration officials."

"The committees will continue to review who exactly was responsible for the failure to respond to the repeated requests for more security and for the effort to cover up the nature of the attacks, so that appropriate officials will be held accountable," wrote the chairmen.

More than half of Boehner's Republican conference has asked him to create a select committee that could concentrate on the investigation. Such a move would ramp up political pressure on President Obama, but Boehner so far has resisted that call as a move that would cost time and money.

In the report, Republicans use the Benghazi attacks as basis for wider criticism of Obama's foreign policy across the Middle East, which they argue shows a "lack of a comprehensive national security strategy or a credible national security posture in the region." The chairmen predict that "this singular event will be repeated" unless Obama "properly postures resources and security assets."

Additionally, the chairmen further accuse the president of not being forthcoming to the public about threats to the United States. They call on Congress to be "an effective counterweight to the administration's failure to adequately communicate the nature and the extent of the threats our country faces today."

The State Department referred questions to the White House, which responded with the following statement by National Security Staff spokesperson Caitlin Hayden:

"The report just released by the House Republican Conference on Benghazi appears to raise questions that have already been asked and answered in great detail by the Administration. We have taken extraordinary steps to work with five different committees in Congress in investigating what happened before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks. The Administration has provided over ten thousand pages of documents, senior agency officials have appeared in ten congressional hearings on Benghazi; agency officials have provided more than 20 briefings for members and staff; and agencies have permitted members to view classified video footage from the night of the attacks. Most importantly, the State Department’s Accountability Review Board -- the independent body charged with reviewing the attacks and evaluating the interagency response -- released its report which specifically found that the interagency response was “timely and appropriate” and “helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans,” while also making important recommendations to improve security that we are in the process of implementing." 

House Demcrats responded to the interim report with a letter, signed by the ranking members of each of the five committees, accusing their colleagues of issuing "a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi without any vetting for accuracy or consideration by Committee Members."

Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

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