The American tragedy in Benghazi is the most investigated terrorist attack of its kind in recent history. Eight House and Senate committees have probed the attack, generating 18 hearings, 40 administration briefings, and the production of at least 25,000 pages of administration documents.
Despite the dogged efforts of Republican House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to manufacture a scandal, these investigations have uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by President Barack Obama or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In our new e-book, The Benghazi Hoax, Ari Rabin-Havt and I tell the story of how a Republican effort to politicize an American tragedy amid the 2012 presidential race morphed into a coordinated campaign to smear Clinton as she mulls a 2016 presidential bid.
Following any terrorist attack on a U.S. target, serious questions inevitably emerge on whether it might have been prevented. Though there’s no evidence that Clinton personally knew of the requests made from the field for additional security at the Benghazi diplomatic compound, she took the “buck-stops-here” approach of a confident leader and accepted full responsibility for any lapses.
Clinton then appointed an accountability review board to investigate what went wrong, taking the political risk of naming two former government officials who had served in Republican administrations — and thus had no motive to whitewash the facts — to lead it. When this panel failed to blame Clinton for the tragedy, Republicans trashed it and baselessly claimed that the board conspired to cover up her purported culpability.
Before she left office, the forward-looking Clinton began the process of implementing all of the board’s 29 recommendations and took disciplinary action against several State Department officials. Unfortunately, that didn’t close the case.
When Clinton suffered a concussion after falling shortly before she was scheduled to give congressional testimony on Benghazi in December, conservatives, led by Fox News, made the crazy claim that Clinton was faking illness to avoid appearing on Capitol Hill. Clinton was suffering from “acute Benghazi allergy,” Charles Krauthammer surmised. When she did testify and showed some visible emotion while discussing the violent deaths of her diplomats, conservatives sought to deny her humanity by claiming she was acting.
Other charges seemed more serious — until they fell apart on examination. The portrait of Clinton as AWOL on the night of the attack was quickly dispelled in testimony showing that she was deeply engaged, talking to Obama, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, CIA director David Petraeus, and the head of the Libyan National Congress.
Issa claimed his investigators unearthed damning State Department cables directly implicating Clinton in decisions about security at the diplomatic facility that the accountability review board somehow missed and contradicted her sworn testimony. But as The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker concluded, all outgoing cables from Washington bear the secretary of state’s “signature.” That’s just protocol. There’s no evidence Clinton ever saw them.
Conservative lawyers promoted a would-be star congressional witness who was said to have been muzzled and demoted by top Clinton aides. Yet, he testified to no muzzling and said he’d requested reassignment himself, due to family concerns.
Next came the revelation that another top State aide massaged administration talking points to protect Clinton from political fallout. But contrary to the suggestion that the aide was a Clinton flunky, she was a career Foreign Service officer who had previously served as Dick Cheney’s adviser.
Despite Issa’s spin-meisters’ best efforts, nothing in the talking points controversy altered the fact that professionals in the intelligence community — not political aides — both originated and signed off on the talking points. They didn’t include details about the perpetrators, testimony showed, to avoid tipping off terrorists to the criminal investigation.
Republicans have the Benghazi story exactly backwards. Whether by helping craft the Obama administration’s tougher-than-Bush approach to terror, holding herself accountable, providing a steady hand as the attack unfolded, taking steps to ensure our diplomats are safe, cooperating fully and transparently with government investigations — even by publicly connecting to the feelings of her fellow Americans about the loss of bona fide American heroes — every step of the way Clinton did the right thing.