Republicans renewed criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of a 2012 terrorist attack on U.S. compounds in Libya, saying officials “willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative.”
In the days following the deadly attacks, White House and senior State Department officials “altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to protect the State Department,” according to the interim report on the Sept. 11 Benghazi assault issued yesterday by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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The report faults President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the latest round of a politically charged argument over the circumstances of the raid and its aftermath. Congress must keep pressure on the administration to ensure that it takes all needed steps to find the Benghazi attackers, the Republicans said in the report.
“The failure to respond more assertively to the attacks and to impose meaningful consequences on those who planned and perpetrated them has contributed to a perception of U.S. weakness and retreat,” according to the report released by five Republican committee chairmen.
Clinton said in January that congressional hearings on the attack showed the increasingly polarized nature of Washington politics, and Democratic lawmakers issued a letter yesterday objecting that Republicans who control the House were “sacrificing accuracy in favor of partisanship” by issuing a report that hadn’t been vetted by lawmakers from both parties.
“You are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions,” said the top Democrats on the five committees. Among them were Representatives Adam Smith of Washington, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, and Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, from the intelligence panel.
The Republican report said the State Department, under Clinton’s leadership, had overruled security requests from U.S. diplomats in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was one of the four Americans killed in the attack.
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The report said that Obama, “as commander-in-chief, failed to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense.”
House Republican leaders said the report shows “the need for continued examination and oversight by the five House committees.”
Previously, Republicans criticized the administration’s conduct before, during and after the attack in Benghazi, where an independent review panel appointed by Clinton concluded that security was “grossly inadequate.”
Before the raid, repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi were denied at the highest levels of the State Department, according to the 45-page Republican report.
The department has been implementing a list of recommendations from the Clinton review panel to improve security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in high-risk locations.
Obama has said that the U.S. is seeking to bring to justice those responsible for the attack. FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Libya in January for talks with officials there about the continuing investigation. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified earlier this year that there wasn’t time to deploy forces to Libya to defend the Benghazi locations once the assaults had started.
The Benghazi attack was a flashpoint in last year’s presidential campaign, and Republicans have criticized officials, such as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, for their early accounts of the circumstances.
In presenting “misleading” talking points after the attack, the administration removed references to the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in eastern Libya, including information about at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi, according to the Republican report.
Rice said on five Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 that the Benghazi attack grew out of a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islamic video that was “hijacked” by militants.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, issued a statement Sept. 28, 12 days after Rice’s appearances, saying the intelligence community had revised its initial assessment and concluded the assault was “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”
The Republican chairmen signaled they want to look further at actions by Clinton. While she testified before Congress on the incident, Clinton wasn’t interviewed by the accountability review board, or ARB, that she established.
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While Clinton “claimed she accepted ‘responsibility’ for Benghazi, the committees remain concerned that the ARB neglected to directly examine the role that she and her deputy secretaries played in overseeing the gross mismanagement or the ‘systemic failures’ within the department,” according to the report.
The report was issued under the names of Republican Representatives Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Ed Royce of California, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; and Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House intelligence committee.
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