By Julian Pecquet and Jeremy Herb - 01/15/14 08:41 PM EST
The deadly terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, could have been averted, but the State Department failed to take measures necessary to stop it, a bipartisan congressional panel concluded Wednesday.
Republicans immediately seized on a Senate Intelligence Committee finding that the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens was “preventable,” seeing it as damaging to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
The report concluded that under former Secretary of State Clinton’s watch, the department failed to increase security in Benghazi despite intelligence reports that the situation there was deteriorating and warnings ahead of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that U.S. facilities were at risk.
It also faulted the Obama administration and the intelligence community for being slow to dispel false reports that the attack that killed Stevens and three other Americans stemmed from a peaceful protest gone awry.
“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement on the report, which was endorsed by members of both parties.
“I would hope that the Foreign Relations Committee will take that report and they will look at the unanswered questions,” the top Republican on the Intelligence panel, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), told The Hill. “And that they will bring before the committee anybody — and there’s several others in addition to Hillary Clinton who should come — but anybody who has knowledge of the facts leading up to the lack of proper security at the Benghazi mission before the attack.”
Senate Foreign Relations panel member John McCain (R-Ariz.), however, was skeptical Clinton would make a repeat appearance on Capitol Hill to discuss Benghazi, at least on the Senate side.
“I think it’d be great idea” for Clinton to testify, he said. “But I just don’t see any appetite. Maybe in the House. But in the Senate, [Democrats] are in the majority. They wouldn’t call her.”
Other possible White House hopefuls lobbed criticisms at Clinton.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a potential 2016 rival, said her “failure to provide adequate security for our deployed personnel in Benghazi” warranted further investigation.
“Throughout this investigation, the Obama administration was more of a roadblock than a contributor to committee efforts to look into the root cause of these attacks,” Rubio said in a statement. “This is especially troubling given that no one at the State Department, which has direct responsibility for the safety of U.S. diplomatic posts overseas, has been held accountable.”
Clinton has sought to put the criticism to rest, notably by declaring that she took responsibility during a Senate hearing last year and quickly adopting the recommendations of the State Department’s independent Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) investigation into the attack.
She is only mentioned once in the report, in an appendix written by Republican members of the committee.
“Ultimately, however, the final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,” the Republican senators wrote.
“At the end of the day, she was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities. Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he hadn’t been briefed on the new report but added that his panel had already “exhausted this issue.”
“We’ve had a series of hearings, including with former Secretary Clinton, with Secretary [of State John] Kerry, with the leaders of the ARB, with those who are in charge of embassy security,” he told The Hill. “I don’t know what would move me to have more of a hearing.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged the State Department to use the report to ensure U.S. embassies are secure.
“I think where this report goes is that there needs to be better analysis within State of intelligence, and that they really need to move to see that these facilities are secure,” she told reporters. “I believe to the extent I know that that is happening. There are other facilities that are potentially dangerous, and they know which they are, and I think they need to tend to that.”
Shortly after the report was released Wednesday, the State Department issued a statement that updated how the department has implemented the 24 unclassified recommendations in the ARB report from December 2012.
The Democrats on the panel, led by Feinstein, said in their own appendix that they hoped the report would put at least one issue to rest: the notion that the White House deliberately misled the public about the nature of the attack to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects in 2012.
“We sincerely hope ... the evidence presented in this report, will end the misinformed and unhelpful talking points controversy once and for all,” the Democrats wrote.
Updated at 8:41 p.m.