Benghazi Committee closes the book

Benghazi Committee closes the book
© Greg Nash

The House Select Committee on Benghazi closed the book on its investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya on Friday after more than two years of work and incalculable amounts of partisan controversy.

In a 7-4 vote along party lines, the special panel voted to approve Republicans’ 800-page report into the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and nearby CIA annex, which faulted multiple parts of the Obama administration but did not provide any "smoking gun" evidence or single out one person for blame.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Congress braces for chaotic December MORE (D-Wash.), a member of the select panel and the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, attended the meeting but missed the final vote on the report because he was overseeing work on a defense policy bill.

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“Our committee’s work is done,” Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters after the roughly hourlong meeting, which went on behind closed doors and was interrupted by a 40-minute lockdown of the Capitol.  

“I’ll say the same thing at the end I said at the beginning,” he added. “It has been a privilege to investigate the service and the sacrifice of the four Americans who died and also those who in many regards [are] still now nameless and faceless to the American pubic, who displayed incredible heroism and valor during that time period.”

Democrats have uniformly dismissed the probe as a thinly veiled political tool designed to undermine Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Saagar Enjeti ponders Hillary Clinton's 2020 plans Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 MORE’s presidential campaign.

That sentiment held strong through Friday, when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) bemoaned the “secret” nature of the closed-door meeting.

“I’ve often said that whatever we do in this Congress must have credibility,” Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat, said before the markup.

“It must be about the business of integrity and about the business of giving the American people what they’ve asked for,” he added. “But here we have another element, and that is that we have four families who lost some very, very grave, courageous and dedicated public servants.”

Four Americans were killed in the assault in Benghazi, including the first U.S. ambassador to die in office since 1988, Christopher Stevens. The episode has dogged the Obama administration ever since, due to allegations that the White House downplayed the violence and falsely pinned it on a blasphemous YouTube video to protect its legacy of intervention during the Libyan unrest.

The committee’s lengthy report about the extremist attacks added new details about events on the ground in Libya and in Washington. It revealed that no military forces ever deployed to rescue Americans in Benghazi and that loyalists to ousted ruler Moammar Gadhafi ultimately evacuated the survivors.

The report was also critical of Clinton, the secretary of State at the time of the violence, who the committee said should have been aware of the dangers in Benghazi and misled the American public in its immediate aftermath.

However, the GOP analysis did not fundamentally change the picture developed throughout investigations by seven other congressional committees. And the politics surrounding the committee appear to have blunted much of its potential hazards to Clinton’s political hopes. The report appears to have done little to sway either her supporters or critics.

While the Benghazi Committee has reached a formal end with the approval of its report on Friday, its work is not done entirely.

Staffers will continue to tangle with the Obama administration about what information to redact from the reams of interview transcripts, documents and emails collected as part of the investigation, Gowdy said.

And next week, the panel is scheduled to sit down for a final interview with Pentagon liaison Stephen Hedger, who appeared to mischaracterize the timeline of the committee’s requests for information during a heated back-and-forth earlier this year.

“It is very important to me to ask him why he made what I believe to be misrepresentations in a letter to Congress,” Gowdy said.

Going forward, Gowdy suggested that unanswered questions remain about the 2012 violence.

“I think any time a new question pops up, groups that are empowered to provide oversight and should do that,” he told reporters. “Our committee will cease to exist in the very near future. You won’t.”

Gowdy also appeared to suggest that Clinton had lied under oath about details of her personal email server during a marathon 11-hour hearing last year.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE (R-Utah) said during a hearing with FBI Director James Comey that the bureau would soon receive a referral from Congress to look into those claims. Cummings, who is also the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, protested the move in a letter to Chaffetz on Thursday evening, saying that the referral would be unwarranted due to ambiguity about whether or not three emails on Clinton’s system were clearly marked as classified.

On Friday, Gowdy said that his panel could make such as referral in the future.  

“If a witness said something to a committee of Congress and/or under oath that is not consistent with the truth, our committee, like every other committee, has an obligation to refer that to those who actually do investigate,” he said. “But we do not investigate crimes in Congress.”

No referrals have yet been made yet, Gowdy said. 

This story was updated at 12:36 p.m.