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House Benghazi report reveals little new information about Hillary Clinton
Karoun Demirjiam
Remember that heated hearing last fall where Hillary Clinton sat in front of Congress for 11 hours and defended her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks? Well, a report from that investigation (of which Clinton's testimony was just one part) is out, capping the two-year process that is the ninth overall investigation into Benghazi.
There is no smoking gun, but the report does conclude that Clinton and the Obama administration more broadly should have realized how in-danger our diplomatic posts in Libya were at the time of the 2012 attack and done more to protect them and the four Americans -- including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens -- who were killed.
Or, more accurately, the Republicans on the special Benghazi committee concluded that. Democrats on the committee called this whole thing a partisan witch hunt to bring down Clinton's presidential run and released their own, much softer report on Monday. But those two reports aren't even the sum total of the committee's work; two of the committee's most conservative lawmakers released a more critical report, which was not signed off on by the rest of the GOP members.
For our purposes, we're going to focus exclusively on Republicans' main report -- I know, it gets confusing -- since Republicans are the ones in control of the committee and Congress, and this is the report a majority of the committee members signed off on. It's also the one that will be at-issue in the 2016 presidential race.
Clinton herself hasn't commented on the report yet, but on Tuesday her campaign called it "a partisan sham" and  full of "discredited, conspiracy theories." Clinton has rebutted many of the report's key findings in the past. But this one brings several new details about that night that committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) says should "fundamentally change the way you view Benghazi." The State Department disagrees there's anything new in this report.
Still, the report is big news in the political world. Here are the five most serious findings from it, according to reviews of the report from The Washington Post's Karen Young and Adam Goldman, NBC News's Andrea MitchellPolitico's Racheel BadeCNN's Stephen Collinson and a news conference House Republicans on the committee gave Tuesday:
1. The State Department failed to protect our diplomats in Libya
This is the report's bottom line. It doesn't necessarily lay the blame at Clinton's feet -- Gowdy had said he wanted to keep the report focused on the facts, not personalities -- but the conclusion is clear: Clinton and the Obama administration should have realized the risks.
To back this conclusion up, CNN's Collinson reports that requests for more security in Benghazi leading up to the attack went unheard or were refused. (In a statement to reporters, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner indicated there was no new evidence in the report.)
But even House Democrats' version of their report acknowledge that "security measures in Benghazi were woefully inadequate," pointing the finger at the security and law enforcement arm of the State Department rather than Clinton. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack, was at the compound with only two official bodyguards even after other Western diplomats had left the country.
NBC's Mitchell notes the report finds that the then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a pretty big player in national security crises, did not join an emergency video conference because "he had left to return to his residence to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries." Mitchell reports he received one update on the attacks during the dinner.
2. The CIA missed warning signs
The report says the agency misread how dangerous Libya, in the midst of a revolution after overthrowing its longtime dictator a year earlier, was at the time. Recall the attack took place on Sept. 11, 2012.
"One section of the report seems to allege that U.S. officials fundamentally misunderstood who their allies were at the time," writes NBC's Mitchell.
To illustrate that point, the report details how there was confusion in U.S. intelligence circles about who ultimately came to Americans' rescue. Previous reports concluded it was a "quasi-government militia," this report says it was a military regime loyal to the country's former military dictator.
3. The Defense Department failed to rescue Americans in time
Or at least, they were late in deploying help, waiting until well after the attack had begun even though President Obama had approved the military to do whatever it needed to hours earlier. U.S. military forces didn't reach Benghazi until 2 p.m. the day after the attack. The report blames a breakdown in the chain of command for this, including a debate among U.S. Marines about whether they should wear their military uniforms or civilian attire.
"No U.S. military asset was every deployed to Benghazi despite the order of the Secretary of Defense at 7 o'clock that night," Gowdy told reporters in a press conference Tuesday. "So Washington had access to real-time access information yet somehow they thought he fighting had subsided."
(The Democrats' version of the report concludes that even if the military got to Benghazi earlier, it could not have saved the lives of the four Americans who were killed. Gowdy says that's beside the point.)
4. The Obama administration "stonewalled" the investigation
The administration engaged in what Gowdy described as "intentional," "coordinated" and "shameful" stonewalling of his investigation. The report said the State Department, Pentagon and CIA refused to to turn over all of the agencies' records and delayed getting others to Congress, a process that Republicans said delayed their investigation by months.
At the heart of this accusation is Clinton's use of a private email server exclusively while she was secretary of state. A hacker had revealed a year before this investigation that Clinton used a private email account to conduct some of her business, but it wasn't until this committee asked the State Department for some of her emails in 2014 that everyone realized just how much she used her private account: The State Department realized there were no records of emails sent or received on an official State Department email account set up for Clinton.
Since then, of course, thousands of her emails have been released, but Clinton was first allowed to delete emails on her server she considered private.
The report blasts that, saying it "makes it impossible to ever represent to those killed in Benghazi that the record is whole."
(Democrats on the committee accuse Republicans of stonewalling them by refusing to include them in key interviews or share key evidence, and the State Department said they "provided every single witness the committee asked for" and gave more than 100,000 pages of documents.)
5. A Clinton aide influenced the State Department's review
As noted above, Congress isn't the only branch of government that reviewed what happened in Benghazi. The State Department did its own, too, which was intended to be internal but independent (think the watchdog report on Clinton's emails).
But according to a section of the Benghazi investigation that Bade obtained, the report "was consistently influenced by" Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff. Mills has said she offered suggestions on drafts, but they were merely that, suggestions.
What the report didn't answer
Among the most prominent areas the report doesn't shed light on are allegations that the United States was helping get weapons to Libyan rebels. Any such operation, which Politico's Bade reports Clinton herself supported but the administration never confirmed or denied, would have been top-level secret. (Recall the 2012 attack happened a year after a successful uprising against its longtime dictator, Moammar Gaddafi.)
Apparently the government still refuses to answer questions about whether it existed; the report says they refused to let anyone who might have knowledge of such a program testify.
What key political players are saying about it
You won't be surprised to hear reactions to it fall neatly along party lines.
Former House speaker John Boehner, who commissioned this investigation, released a statement Tuesday praising the final report,calling it "a serious, thorough, fact-centered report with new information that casts new light on the events immediately before, during and after the tragedy."
House Democrats on the committee said Republicans excluded them from interviews and withheld transcripts and leaked inaccurate information. Their report concluded that, yes, security was inadequate in Benghazi "the U.S. military could not have done anything differently on the night of the attacks that would have saved the lives of the four brave Americans killed in Benghazi."
We'll update this story as we hear more.