Benghazi Probe Holds|No Damage for Clinton

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Releasing a long-awaited report Tuesday on the bombing of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-led House committee faulted the military for its slow response and the Obama administration for its public response.
     Broken up into five sections, plus a dozen appendices, the 800-page report begins by detailing the 2012 attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. It then examines the events leading up to the carnage, and the government’s public and private response. An examination of the government’s compliance with the committee’s investigation rounds out the report, along with recommendations for the future.
     “There is new information on what happened in Benghazi and that information should fundamentally change the way you view what happened in Benghazi and there are recommendations made to make sure it does not happen again,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chaired the Select Committee on Benghazi, said at a press conference Tuesday.
     Investigators concluded that the Defense Department did not send help to the besieged compound quickly enough, despite an order from then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to deploy military assets to the area. The only unit that reached Benghazi during the attacks deployed itself from Tripoli, according to the report.
     “When the attacks in Benghazi began, the Defense Department was unprepared to respond,” the Republican report reads. “Despite there being a missing U.S. ambassador, its response – from the start of the attack at 9:42 pm in Libya, to the amount of time it took for the forces to actually deploy until late the next morning in Libya – at best illustrates a rusty bureaucratic process not in keeping with the gravity and urgency of the events happening on the ground.”
     The report also faults the administration’s decision to establish a compound in Benghazi without giving it the means to defend itself. The Department of Defense meanwhile faces criticism for deploying its forces in such a way that they were too far from Libya to help during the attack.
     Logistical problems plagued units trying to get to Libya, preventing any from meeting their deployment deadline, according to the report. One unit in Rota, Spain, had to wait for a plane to come from Germany to fly them to Benghazi, while another special-forces unit had to wait for a forklift to come in from 180 miles away before it could load up to leave.
     White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the committee’s claims that the military reacted too slowly to the attacks “debunked,” as reported by the Associated Press.
     Just what new information the report reveals is a matter of debate, with Republicans marveling at some parts of the report Democrats say have been public knowledge for years.
     For example, the Republican report touts as a “new fact” the finding that a security team dispatched to Benghazi changed uniform four times while waiting on a plane in Rota, Spain.
     Democrats released their own report Monday, pointing to a February 2013 hearing in which General Martin Dempsey, chair of the joint chiefs of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee about the team changing uniforms, though he did not say during the hearing how many times the unit did so, according to a transcript.
     Much like the 12-hour grilling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the committee held in October, the Republican report focuses heavily on how the administration responded to the attack after it happened. Republicans have long been critical of National Security Advisor Susan Rice for visiting Sunday morning shows days after the attack and blaming the violence on an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube.
     The report says people closest to the situation responded to Rice’s claims on the Sunday shows with “shock and disbelief.”
     “I have never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career as on that day,” Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Tripoli, told the committee, according to the report. “There have been other times when I’ve been embarrassed, but that’s the most embarrassing moment of my career.”
     One State Department official wrote to another that Rice was “off the reservation on five networks,” according to the report.
     While the report mentions Clinton 131 times across its first four sections, it does not find her at fault for the attacks. It does, however, criticize her for repeating the claims about the video’s influence on the attack in public while privately calling it an act of terror, including in an email to her daughter, Chelsea.
     “In sharing this fact with her daughter, the secretary acknowledged the attack – with a link to al Qaida – was in fact terrorism,” the report reads. “In omitting this fact from her public statement, however, the secretary sent a very different message to the public – a message that suggested a protest over the video.”
     Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee, responded to the report at a campaign event in Denver, saying “it is pretty clear it is time to move on,” according to Politico.
     The report released Tuesday is preliminary, and the committee will convene on July 8 for a markup where members will be able to offer changes to the report.
     But the two sides of the committee seem far away from consensus on what they have found. Democrats blasted the report released Tuesday as a partisan move meant to keep them in the dark, repeating claims they have made throughout the committee’s life.
     “There is a reason Republicans leaked pieces of their report in the middle of the night and continue to hide it from Democrats even now they don’t want us to fact-check it against the evidence we obtained,” a Democratic spokesperson on the committee said in a press release. “Based on press reports, the Republican Benghazi report seems like a conspiracy theory on steroids — bringing back long-debunked allegations with no credible evidence whatsoever. 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.”
     Gowdy meanwhile defended his report, noting that the version Democrats released Monday actually mentions Clinton more than his own did.
     “Color me shocked that they are critical of our report,” Gowdy said. “All five of them voted not to form the committee. They threatened not to participate and for the most part they did not. They have been serial leakers of information and they missed a really good opportunity.”
     Clocking in at 339 pages, the Democrats’ report is also broken up into several sections.

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