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Republicans release Benghazi report with no new evidence against Hillary Clinton

After an exhaustive and politically charged investigation that went on for years and cost millions of dollars, Republicans on the House Benghazi committee released a final report Tuesday that shed little new light on the U.S. response to the 2012 attacks in that Libyan city.

The 800-page report, which Democrats on the committee denounced as a sham focused on discrediting Hillary Clinton before it was even released, included no new evidence of wrongdoing by the former secretary of State. While it argues that the State Department, under her leadership, inadequately protected its staff in Benghazi, its criticism focused more broadly on the Obama administration.

The report accuses the government of incompetence at various levels, including a failure to deploy needed military assets, CIA intelligence reports that were “rife with errors” and misguided planning, even in the midst of the violence.

“Not a single wheel of a single U.S. military asset had even turned toward Libya,” Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the committee chairman, said Tuesday at a committee news conference on Capitol Hill unveiling the report, making the case that the administration ignored dozens of warning signs that violence was imminent. 

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The investigation’s findings, though, are unlikely to be a potent tool for weakening Clinton. The committee has struggled to maintain its credibility. Its all-day grilling of Clinton in Washington last fall was seen largely as a flop, as she deftly dispensed with politically tinged questioning that lacked focus nor elicited new revelations.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s gloating on cable news that the committee would hurt Clinton’s White House chances also fueled the narrative that it was not a serious fact-finding mission.

Clinton dismissed the report in brief comments to reporters at a campaign event in Denver.

"I understand that after more than two years and $7 million spent by the Benghazi Committee under taxpayer funds, it had to today report that it had found nothing — nothing — to contradict the conclusions that the independent accountability board, or the conclusions of the prior, multiple earlier investigations carried out on a bipartisan basis in the Congress,” she said.

“I’ll leave it to others to characterize this report, but I think it’s pretty clear that it’s time to move on."

Still, the report offers yet another troubling glimpse at what was going on in the highest levels of government as Americans were under siege in the diplomatic outpost on Sept. 11, 2012. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department information officer Sean Smith were killed in an American compound by a mob of militia fighters. Two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, died later when the complex they were in was attacked by mortar fire.

“There is new information on what happened in Benghazi,” Gowdy said. “That information should fundamentally change the way you view what happened.”

The report revealed, for example, that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who normally would be expected to take a leading role in responding to an attack on Americans, was not at the Pentagon but instead hosting a dinner party for foreign dignitaries at his home. It highlights the confusion among intelligence officials about which militias could be trusted in Libya, and how it was fighters loyal to deposed dictator Moammar Kadafi who ultimately aided Americans.

As the attacks were going on, the report notes, military officials were debating whether troops sent to respond should wear uniforms or civilian clothing.

By the time the special House committee began its investigation in 2014, there already had been seven U.S. government probes into the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks. All of them found that even a flawless response to the violence would not have enabled U.S. troops to reach Benghazi in time to save the lives of the four Americans killed there.

Yet the report makes the case that if U.S. officials had been as attentive earlier to the deteriorating security situation in Libya as they were in heralding the revolution there as a foreign policy success, the American deaths might have been avoided.

“The administration was more concerned about diplomatic sensitivities with Libyans and promoting its policies as successful than it was with Americans’ safety,” said Rep. Martha Roby, a Republican committee member from Alabama.

The White House sought to play down those findings and cast the report as a politically motivated exercise.

“This is the best evidence yet that this is a Republican conspiracy, seeking political advantage out of a terrible tragedy,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “What possible goal could Republicans have by taking a look at this matter in 2016 other than trying to influence the outcome of the elections that are held in 2016?” 

Some Republicans on the panel felt the report did not go far enough in indicting Clinton. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Pompeo of Kansas tacked on a 48-page addendum that accused Clinton and others in the Obama administration of deliberately misleading Americans about the attack.

“Officials at the State Department, including Secretary Clinton, learned almost in real time that the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” they wrote. “With the [2012] presidential election just 56 days away, rather than tell the American people the truth and increase the risk of losing an election, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly.”

The congressmen said the administration’s early narrative that the attack occurred at the hands of an angry mob incensed by an anti-Islamic video intentionally underplayed the role of organized terrorism in the violence.

Pompeo declared that Clinton’s handling of the situation was “morally reprehensible.” “Before the last mortar falls, they are talking about politics,” he said.

Such invective created discomfort for Gowdy, who labored to make the case that attacking Clinton was not the committee’s motivation. He pointed out that a separate, preemptive report that Democrats unveiled Monday, which concluded the investigation was a costly and time-consuming partisan exercise, was far more heavily focused on Clinton. “Their report mentions her name far more times than our report does,” he said.

Democrats, nonetheless, immediately denounced the GOP findings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California called them “shameful.” “Never before has such a tragedy been used to personally denigrate a secretary of State,” she said in a statement. She said the latest investigation, which was conducted over the objection of Democrats, adds nothing substantive to the findings already reached by a bipartisan review conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which she is the ranking Democrat.

“This whole exercise demeans Congress,” Feinstein said.

In the end, the biggest liability the investigation created for Clinton has nothing to do with her response to the Benghazi attacks. It is related to her email. It was the Benghazi committee’s work that led to the revelation that Clinton was routing her sensitive government email through a private server in her home.

The unorthodox setup has created more political headaches for Clinton than anything else she did during her tenure as secretary of State, raising concerns with voters that the candidate does not abide by the same rules as everyone else. The emailing practices put sensitive information at risk of breach and allowed Clinton to control which of her communications became part of the government record. They sparked a months-long FBI investigation, which has yet to conclude.

evan.halper@latimes.com

Follow me: @evanhalper

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UPDATES:

1:17 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from the White House.

11:12 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Hillary Clinton.

10:10 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from House Benghazi committee members.

This article was originally published at 7:28 a.m.

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