Democrats tied a Republican investigation into the fatal attack in Benghazi, Libya, to presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday, working to taint the inquiry as a partisan smear of their own candidate, Hillary Clinton.
The congressional Democrats said the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi had made unsubstantiated statements meant to hurt Clinton and that those lines often then went straight to Trump’s campaign or other Republican campaigns.
The Democrats made the case in a 339-page report released a day before the committee’s Republican majority is expected to conclude its two-year inquiry into the 2012 Libya attacks with a report likely to be critical of Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time.
The Democrats cite Trump’s name 23 times, including excerpts from his television appearances, to show the presumptive Republican nominee used the committee’s points to attack Clinton in the 2016 race.
In one case, for example, the Democrats note that a committee Republican referred to more than 600 requests for security from Benghazi before the attacks, though “he refused to provide the evidence for his claim.” Still, the Democrats said, Trump went on to say that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had wired Clinton “500 or 600 times asking for help,” a point fact checkers have disproved.
They also list comments including Carly Fiorina saying Clinton has “blood on her hands” and Trump claiming that “she was not awake to take that call at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
“We are issuing our own report today because, after spending more than two years and $7 million in taxpayer funds in one of the longest and most partisan congressional investigations in history, it is long past time for the Select Committee to conclude its work,” the Democratic report said.
The committee Democrats – Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Adam Smith of Washington, Adam Schiff of California, Linda Sanchez of California and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois – maintain anew that the State Department and the Pentagon could not have done anything differently on the night of the attacks that could have saved the lives of Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed.
They acknowledge that the State Department’s security in Benghazi was inadequate but said Clinton “never personally denied any requests for additional security” from Americans in Libya.
Democrats said they released their findings because Republicans were unwilling to issue a joint report.
“We hope our report will put to rest the conspiracy theories about Benghazi once and for all,” the Democrats said in their report. “Republicans have forfeited their credibility by delaying this report repeatedly in order to push it into the presidential election year.”
Democrats charge that the committee has spread false talking points, saying its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., “has yet to apologize to Secretary Clinton for his slanderous accusation.”
As Chairman Gowdy has said, this is not about one person. This investigation is about the four brave Americans we lost in Libya. . . .We look forward to revealing the new information we have uncovered.
Select Committee on Benghazi Press Secretary Matt Wolking
Clinton delivered what was widely considered a strong public performance at an 11-hour grilling in October in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Barring any huge new revelations, she is unlikely to be hurt by the committee’s report, though she still faces what could be a more troubling months-long FBI inquiry into the handling of sensitive information while she was secretary of state.
Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said the committee report could even make it easier for Clinton to dismiss attacks by Trump. “If it supports her contention, I think it will be helpful,” he said.
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based consultant who once worked for Clinton, dismissed the upcoming report, saying it was not likely to have an impact when the economy is what’s on voters’ minds. “And it’s been a long time since Benghazi,” he added..
Republicans created the Select Committee on Benghazi in May 2014 to examine U.S. government policies that may have contributed to the attacks and the response of the Obama administration, including Clinton. They said Democrats refused to cooperate.
Gowdy has long complained about the lack of cooperation from the Obama administration. Republicans tried to ask President Barack Obama a series of questions about the attack, but in recent days attorneys urged him not to answer the committee’s questions “because of the implications of his response on the constitutional separation of powers.”
“For over two years they refused to participate in the majority’s serious, fact-centered investigation,” Committee Press Secretary Matt Wolking said in a statement.
“The dishonest Democrats on this committee falsely claimed everything had been ‘asked and answered.’ They said the committee had found ‘absolutely nothing new.’ If that’s changed, they should come clean and admit it. If not, everyone can ignore their rehashed, partisan talking points defending their endorsed candidate for president.”
In their report, Democrats repeatedly emphasize that the Republicans’ probe did not yield any new information, only adding more context to what already had been uncovered by the previous investigations, such as “poignant new details about how (the responders’) actions saved lives.”
The Democrats also released all of the unclassified transcripts of witness interviews “so the American people can read them for themselves.” Of the 107 interviews with witnesses, 27 were withheld from the Democrats, they said.
Seven other congressional committees and the bipartisan, independent Accountability Review Board already have looked into the assault. Nearly all of them criticized the Clinton State Department as insufficiently addressing security issues at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Clinton testified twice before Congress on the Benghazi attacks in 2013.
The review board portrayed a total system breakdown in the Benghazi attacks: an inadequate number of security agents: a lack of protective equipment; and officials who failed to appreciate and craft a response to the city’s rapidly deteriorating security situation.
Gowdy, whose panel discovered Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email system for government business, dismissed as incomplete all previous Benghazi inquiries, saying they’d failed to interview key witnesses and access many documents.