The Republican chairmen of five congressional committees have submitted an interim progress report to House Speaker John Boehner on their investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi.
The State Department is frequently criticized in the report, while the intelligence community and the Defense Department are largely spared.
Officials “at the highest levels of the State Department” demonstrated “a fundamental lack of understanding … as to the dangers presented in Benghazi,” the report says. It also asserts “a concerted attempt to insulate the Department of State from blame following the terrorist attacks.”
The report claims former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a more direct role in security-related decisions than she has led Congress to believe. “Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” the report says. As evidence, the authors cite an April 2012 cable bearing Clinton’s signature acknowledging a request for additional security from then-U.S. ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz. According to the report, the cable “ordered the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as planned.”
The committees believe intelligence warnings in advance of the 9/11 anniversary attacks were sufficient to warrant an administration response. “The attacks were not the result of a failure by the Intelligence Community (IC) to recognize or communicate the threat.” Senior U.S. officials were given “considerable information about the threats in the region,” including the “deteriorating security environment in Benghazi [and] threats to American interests, facilities, and personnel.”
Nor was the Defense Department or the military at fault in the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi, which has come under withering criticism by Republicans. “Defense Department assets were correctly positioned for the general threat across the region,” says the report. President Obama, however, “failed to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the [DOD] with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense.”
The report continues long-standing Republican criticisms of the administration’s public response to the episode, including a set of talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice that said the attacks arose from an angry response to a YouTube video. Beyond the fact that Republicans found the talking points to be deliberately misleading, the report seeks to rebut the claim that those talking points were altered to protect classified information. The report’s authors reviewed email exchanges during the interagency process of editing, which they say does not reveal any concern with protecting classified information. “The claim that the State Department’s edits were made solely to protect that investigation,” says the report, “is not credible.”
The interim progress report was a joint effort of Republicans on the House committees on Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Government Reform, Judiciary, and Intelligence. Such collaboration is fairly rare and should ease pressure on Boehner, who has been chided by other member of the GOP for his handling of the Benghazi investigation.
Boehner has been under pressure from rank-and-file Republicans as well as outside groups to form a select committee to probe the response to the Benghazi attacks. The critics have said they believe the five committees have been too slow and scattered in their investigation. As of Tuesday, a bill offered by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., to establish a select committee has 114 co-sponsors.
But Boehner and the leaders of the five committees have said a joint committee is unnecessary and would be a waste of money.
In the future, the committees will update the report “as warranted.”