By Julian Pecquet - 05/08/13 09:00 AM EDT
New revelations about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, are pulling Hillary Clinton back into a political firestorm that the presumptive 2016 candidate had so far managed to escape unscathed.
House Republicans have unearthed new evidence suggesting the Obama administration could have done more to help the U.S. diplomats under attack last Sept. 11.
“I think the dam is about to break on Benghazi. We’re going to find a system failure before, during, and after the attacks,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. “We’re going to find political manipulation seven weeks before an election. We’re going to find people asleep at the switch when it comes to the State Department, including Hillary Clinton.”
The latest allegations come from three career diplomats whose testimony Wednesday is expected to be at odds with the State Department’s official narrative. An internal State Department review last year found “systemic failures” among State Department leadership but did not interview Clinton and did not recommend anyone be fired.
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Gregory Hicks, who became the top diplomat in Libya after Stevens was killed, told congressional investigators that the Accountability Review Board report “doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all” and “let people off the hook.” He said sending jet aircraft scrambling over Benghazi could have dispersed the attackers and that the Pentagon told a special operations team from Tripoli to stand down, according to snippets of his interview released ahead of the hearing.
The State Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing the process used in conducting the Benghazi audit as well as previous review boards. More than half the Republican conference is clamoring for a select committee to probe the attack and the administration’s response amid the renewed focus on Benghazi.
Democrats say the Oversight committee’s investigation — and the focus on Clinton — are politically motivated. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that Clinton would garner 65 percent of her party’s support if the 2016 presidential primary were held now, far ahead of Vice President Biden’s 13 percent.
“The meta message that they’re trying to get out there is that this is a failure in judgment that goes to character,” Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a senior Democrat on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels, told The Hill. “It didn’t work with Obama, so [they’re hoping that] maybe it’ll stick to Clinton.
“They’re trying to bring her numbers down. That’s what this is all about.”
A Clinton aide did not respond to a request for comment.
Connolly also raised concerns with the whistle-blowers’ attorneys, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, a Republican couple who battled then-President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department in the 1990s. Democrats on Issa’s committee have complained that the two attorneys have blocked Democrats’ access to the witnesses ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.
“They both worked with and for, in some capacity, Mitt Romney. There’s no law against that, but don’t tell me that I’m supposed to accept with a straight face that they’re just professional lawyers representing their clients,” Connolly said, naming the 2012 GOP presidential nominee. “They are active Republicans who have partisan agendas, as they always have.”
Republicans say they’re following the leads wherever they point.
Clinton told Congress in January that she took “responsibility” for the security failures but that she was not personally involved either in denying extra security for the post or in crafting talking points downplaying links to al Qaeda and depicting instead a peaceful protest gone awry.
She testified that she did not control United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on Sunday news shows five days after the attack.
“I personally was not focused on talking points,” she said. “I was focused on keeping our people safe.”
Fox News is reporting, however, that a top official in the department’s counterterrorism bureau, Mark Thompson, will testify that Clinton and a top deputy sought to cut his bureau out of the loop as they decided how to characterize the attack.
“I think it was political rather than security,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on National Security, told Fox News on Monday. “But what boggles my mind is four and a half months after the fact, Secretary Clinton still had the gall to come here and perpetuate [that] things that we know as common knowledge are simply not true.”
And full committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told CBS that “there certainly are plenty of people close to the former secretary who knew, and apparently were part of, the problem.”
This isn’t the first time Clinton finds herself in House Republicans’ cross hairs over Benghazi. Five committees of jurisdiction — including Issa’s — released a 46-page interim report of their investigations last month that put the blame squarely on her shoulders.
But the report may have overreached when it said it had evidence that Clinton had personally signed an April 2012 cable turning down then-Ambassador Gene Cretz’s request for more security. All State Department cables from Washington bear the secretary’s automatic signature, the State Department said.
“Although a telephone call could have clarified this issue in a matter of moments, you chose not to check with the (State) Department before making these highly inflammatory and erroneous accusations in a public forum,” the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), wrote to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
“The allegations in your staff report are false, extremely irresponsible, and lack even a rudimentary understanding of how State Department cables are processed,” he said.
Jordy Yager contributed.