Republicans say White House Impeded Probe
The U.S. military response in Benghazi, Libya was perplexingly inadequate the night Americans were attacked by Islamic extremist terrorists, Sept. 11, 2012. That's one overarching conclusion reached by two leading Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee after a year and a half long investigation.
"Until now the administration has led us to believe the military did not have assets-men or machines-close enough or ready enough to arrive in Benghazi in time to save lives," said Republicans Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Pompeo of Kansas. "An asset that could have made a difference would have been armed drones. And as the Committee learned, it would have been relatively fast and easy to arm a drone."
Jordan and Pompeo released a 48-page supplement to the Committee's much lengthier official report, also out today, numbering more than 500 pages. Jordan said he and Pompeo "felt the need to draw conclusions from facts," and address motivations behind the Obama administration's Benghazi-related actions; something he said the Committee's main report stopped short of doing.
Four Americans were killed in the Benghazi attacks. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith died in the initial assault on the unsecure diplomatic compound. CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed hours later, when no U.S. military help from outside Libya came to the rescue and terrorists assaulted the nearby CIA annex. The events, as told by survivors in the annex, were portrayed in this year's film "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi."
The fallout from Benghazi is among the most enduring controversies of the Obama administration.
Read and Watch Sharyl Attkisson's Benghazi reports:
The tragic events happened eight weeks before the 2012 Presidential election. President Obama's re-election campaign centered, in part, on the notion that his administration had eliminated major terrorist threats. Almost immediately, when word of the attacks reached Washington D.C., all concerned understood they were acts of terrorism, according to documents and witnesses inside the Obama administration. Emails and testimony later revealed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials confirmed the attack's terrorist origins privately with foreign officials and family members right away, but told the public and victims' family members a different story.
Even as the assault was underway, Clinton began advancing a false narrative pointing to an anti-Islamic YouTube video rather than Islamic terrorists. Emails also revealed Obama officials censored words and phrases such as "Islamic" and "terrorism" from talking points. This was the first time there was public focus on the Obama administration's avoidance of those terms; something it has continued to do on many occasions since.
Still, Democrats remain steadfast in their insistence that "administration officials did not make intentionally misleading statements about the attacks, but instead relied on information they were provided at the time under fast-moving circumstances."
They released their own separate report yesterday. The Democrats' version concentrated largely on "abuses Republicans engaged in during this investigation." Their account of the Committee's work is, in many instances, diametrically opposed to the Republican version. Democrats largely claim the Committee simply confirmed what was already known.
"Republicans excluded Democrats from interviews, concealed exculpatory evidence, withheld interview transcripts, leaked inaccurate information, issued unilateral subpoenas, sent armed Marshals to the home of a cooperative witness, and even conducted political fundraising by exploiting the deaths of four Americans," say Democrats.
They accuse Republican Chairman of the Committee Trey Gowdy of South Carolina of "conducting this investigation like an overzealous prosecutor desperately trying to land a front-page conviction rather than a neutral judge of facts seeking to improve the security of our diplomatic corps."
Democrats call the House Benghazi Committee's work "one of the longest and most partisan congressional investigations in history."
White House "Impeded the Investigation"
In the end, Republicans say the White House "impeded the investigation" making it impossible to answer all outstanding questions. "The Committee ended its work without having spoken to anyone in the White House Situation Room that night," wrote Jordan and Pompeo. "Nor did we receive all email communication between White House staffers concerning the attackall off limits to Congress according to White House lawyers."
President Obama's whereabouts during the attacks and his precise actions remain unknown and publicly unaccounted for. White House press secretary Josh Earnest blocked release of White House photos taken that night that could provide insight. And the President did not respond to the Committee's questions.
At times, the Obama administration provided false information, says the Jordan-Pompeo report. When they sought to identify and interview the military operator who guided an unmanned military drone flying over the compound while the attacks were underway, a Defense Department official claimed, "The [Defense] Department has expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail." However, that claim was proven "completely false," said Republicans. Eventually, the Department of Defense produced the witness.
As to what military assets might have been available, but were not called upon, Republicans say the Defense Department refused to fill in those blanks.
"The military has failed to provide a clear, specific inventory of every armed aircraft whether manned or unmanned that could have flown to Benghazi during the 7-plus hours from the beginning of the attack to the mortar rounds hitting the CIA Annex. Instead, the military has insisted that the Committee simply accept the word of senior military officers, some without firsthand knowledge of the events, as an adequate substitute for actual eye witnesses."
Democrats claim, "The Defense Department could not have done anything differently on the night of the attacks that would have saved the lives of the four brave Americans killed in Benghazi, and although the military's global posture prevented it from responding more quickly that night, improvements were made years ago."
Obama Administration's Public vs. Private Statements
Using government documents, Jordan and Pompeo spent many pages in their report contrasting the private and public statements of Obama officials at the time. For example, Clinton emailed her daughter at 11:23 p.m. the night of the attacks, "Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda- like [sic] group[.]" But Clinton didn't mention terrorism or al-Qaeda in her public remarks the following morning when she implied a YouTube video sparked protesters who had gotten out of control and attacked.
Meantime, Clinton's Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones privately told Libya's Ambassador to the U.S. that "the group that conducted the attacksAnsar Al Shariais affiliated with Islamic extremists." And Clinton told Egypt's Prime Minister in private that, "We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attacknot a protestwe believe the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al Qaeda."
After then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows furthering the false narrative blaming a spontaneous protest for the violence, documents show some State Department officials reacted with shock and disbelief.
One State Department official emailed another:
"The horse has left the barn on this, don't you think? Rice was on FIVE Sunday Morning shows yesterday saying this. Tough to walk back."
Other State Department officials chimed in:
"[State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland] planned on walking it back just a bit, though."
"I think Rice was off the reservation on this one."
"Yup. Luckily there's enough in her language to fudge exactly what she said/meant."
"Off the reservation on five networks!"
"[White House] very worried about the politics. This was all their doing."
But instead of correcting Rice's statements, Republicans say the State Department may have changed its public statements to match Rice's claims. "No one asked about it could explain the change. The change from the truth to a known false statement is troubling," say Republicans.
Rice was later considered to succeed Clinton as Secretary of State. As controversy over her statements lingered, she withdrew her name. President Obama later appointed her to become his National Security Advisor.
No Death Penalty Sought
Republicans also criticized the fact that dozens of terrorists stormed the U.S. compounds that night and many of their images were captured on video cameras. Yet, almost four years later, only one suspect has been indicted and brought to the U.S. to face charges: Ahmed Abu Khatallah.
"The United States does know the identity of many of the attackers," say Jordan and Pompeo. "Yet, the resources devoted to bring them to justice have proven inadequate." Furthermore, they note, "the administration has chosen for reasons it refused to provide Congress not to seek the death penalty in this case."
According to Democrats on the committee, "Decades in the future, historians will look back on this investigation as a case study in how not to conduct a credible investigation. They will showcase the proliferation of Republican abuses as a chief example of what happens when politicians are allowed to use unlimited taxpayer dollarsand the formidable power of Congressto attack their political foes."
There's at least one point of agreement: Despite the early claims to the contrary by the Obama administration, both Democrats and Republicans conclude security measures in Benghazi prior to the attacks "were woefully inadequate" as a result of State Department decisions.
This Sunday on Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson watch Benghazi: Rescue Interrupted