By Julian Pecquet - 04/24/13 12:51 AM EDT
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, vulnerable by approving lax security measures, a report released Tuesday by House Republicans concluded.
The 46-page report accused Clinton — a possible White House contender in 2016 — of seeking to cover up failures by the State Department that could have contributed to the attack last year that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The report, compiled by five House panels after a seven-month investigation, said Clinton approved reductions in security levels prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, contradicting Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Jan. 23.
“Repeated requests for additional security were denied at the highest levels of the State Department,” it said. “For example, an April 2012 State Department cable bearing Secretary Hillary Clinton’s signature acknowledged then-Ambassador [Gene] Cretz’s formal request for additional security assets but ordered the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as planned.”
Clinton testified that the more than 1 million cables that come to the State Department from the field every year are addressed to her and those that go out from Foggy Bottom bear her signature, regardless of who wrote them.
The report also accuses the White House and senior State Department officials of altering accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to protect the department in the days after the attack.
Contrary to what the administration has stated, the report said the talking points were not edited to protect classified information, and notes that concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior administration officials.
The report, distributed to Republican House members on Tuesday, aims in part to inoculate Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his committee leaders from conservative criticism that they’re giving the Obama administration a free pass on Benghazi by opposing the creation of a select committee endorsed by more than half the Republican conference.
It’s also a first shot at Clinton’s legacy at the State Department as she begins to lay the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2016.
Democrats slammed the report for “politicizing” the Benghazi attack; the ranking Democrats on the five committees that issued the report said Democrats had been excluded from the process that created it.
“By abandoning regular order and excluding Democratic Members entirely from this process, you are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions,” the Democrats said in a letter to Boehner.
The White House said it had cooperated fully with the report, which it said raised questions that have already been answered.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in a statement said an independent body charged with reviewing the attacks found the interagency response was “timely and appropriate” and “helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.” It also made recommendations to improve security that Hayden said are being implemented.
The independent audit faulted State for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” leading up to the deadly attack.
But the audit’s investigators did not interview Clinton, and did not recommend that anyone be fired because it “did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”
The GOP report said State changed talking points that Ambassador Susan Rice used on television five days after the attacks in order to “insulate” the department from criticism, not to protect the FBI’s investigation.
“Senior State Department officials requested — and the White House approved — that the details of the threats, specifics of the previous attacks, and previous warnings be removed to insulate the Department from criticism that it ignored the threat environment in Benghazi,” the report states.
“Evidence rebuts administration claims that the talking points were modified to protect classified information or to protect an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” it states.
The report also criticizes President Obama, saying he “failed to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense.”
The report also takes the administration to task for failing to bring anyone to justice more than seven months after the attack.
“The failure to respond more assertively to the attacks and to impose meaningful consequences on those who planned and perpetrated them has contributed to a perception of U.S. weakness and retreat,” the report concludes.
— Russell Berman contributed to this report.
— Published at 4:04 p.m. and last updated at 8:51 p.m.