The Republican leading the investigation into the Benghazi terror attack said the “failure” didn't lie with Hillary Clinton and that her “legacy” was “mostly intact” for a 2016 presidential run.
The show of support for the former secretary of State by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is among the surprising revelations in the new book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton,” by The Hill's Amie Parnes and Politico's Jonathan Allen.
“When the call came in at three o'clock in the morning, the failure wasn't viewed, at least as of today, as Secretary Clinton's. It was really an Obama failure,” Issa said. “Her legacy is mostly intact for 2016, if she chooses.”
The attack left a stain on Clinton's tenure that could undermine her national security credentials if she runs for the presidency. It also cast a pall on one of her few high-profile successes as America's top diplomat, the ousting of Libyan dictator Moamar Gadhafi.
In the interview, Issa credited Clinton with promising his team access as it launched its investigation into the administration shortcomings that contributed to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. He said he felt Clinton wanted to help but that the White House was putting up roadblocks.
“The front end of it, Hillary's part of it, was very good,” Issa said. “I don't think she'd lie to me. In that sense, I trust her like any politician and particularly any diplomat – every word within a statement has to be carefully made sure you heard it correctly.”
Issa went on to compare her to other administration officials he'd clashed with, notably Attorney General Eric Holder, who Issa fought during his probe into the Fast & Furious gun-running fiasco.
“When you look at Eric Holder, I do not trust him. I do not believe he is trustworthy. I do no believe he is honest,” Issa said. “In the case of Secretary Clinton, I think her personal standing – her legacy of tough but honest, diplomatic but not disingenuous – I think it's important to her.”
Issa's comments are particularly surprising as Clinton became a focus of conservative ire almost immediately after the attack. Much of the Republican criticism since the election has focused on the State Department's independent review of the attack, which did not interview Clinton and assigned blame to mid-level employees of the State Department.
After she fell ill that month, former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton for example accused her of concocting a “diplomatic illness” to avoid testifying in Congress. Clinton's longtime aide, Philippe Reines, aggressively responded by sending Bolton a lump of coal in his email inbox for Christmas, according to “HRC” and following up with a sarcastic message after Clinton testified a month later.
“J – have not heard back from you, and I'm honestly getting concerned,” Reines wrote. “I hope you haven't come down with anything.”
Issa has also grown more critical.
An April 2013 report by five House committees – in particular Issa's – pinned the blame squarely on Clinton for the lax security at the U.S. mission despite repeated attacks and warnings in the months prior to the attack. The report accused Clinton of personally signing off on a cable rejecting the previous ambassador's requests for more security, even though her signature is automatically apposed to the more than 1 million cables the department sends out from Washington every year.
Since then, Issa has joined the criticism of Clinton's expeditionary diplomacy, which sought to send U.S. diplomats to far-flung and sometimes dangerous places with minimal security to avoid offending local sensibilities.
“We know from Hillary Clinton on down there was a policy of normalization to make it appear as though we had won the war on terror,” Issa told the Daily Caller in October. “I was in Libya just the other day, and one thing that I came back with was a strong opinion that that ‘stand down’ had everything to do with the fight between Department of State headed Hillary Clinton and the Defense Department, and that ultimately, State was willing to put their assets in, and did not want any military assets in, because they did not want to escalate what ultimately should have been escalated to a real rescue mission.”
In the Daily Caller interview, Issa blasted Clinton for her January 2013 testimony before the House and Senate foreign affairs panels, when she angrily pushed back against Republican questions about who wrote the talking points used on Sunday news shows five days after the attack.
“Secretary Clinton famously said, ‘What difference does it make'?” Issa said. “It makes a difference whether or not you were leading an organization that cared about the people beforehand, did everything it could during the attack, and whether you told the truth afterwards. [I]n this case, she fails all three tests.”
Issa has also repeatedly suggested that he could drag Clinton before his committee.
“Look, it’s not like we’re getting great answers from the deputies and under secretaries,” an oversight panel staffer told London's Daily Mail in September. “So eventually you have to climb the ladder and swear Hillary in again.”