House Republicans have concluded that the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies bear no blame for failing to halt the terrorist assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year, releasing a report Tuesday that said President Obama and the State Department set up the military for failure.
The report also found that plenty of intelligence presaged the attack, but the White House and State Department — including the secretary at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton — failed to heed the warnings.
In the most damning conclusion, House Republicans said Mr. Obama’s team lied about the attacks afterward, first by blaming mob violence spawned by an anti-Muslim video, and then wrongly saying it had misled the public because it was trying to protect an FBI investigation.
“This progress report reveals a fundamental lack of understanding at the highest levels of the State Department as to the dangers presented in Benghazi, Libya, as well as a concerted attempt to insulate the Department of State from blame following the terrorist attacks,” the GOP investigation concluded in its 46-page report.
The White House dismissed the report as a rehash of questions the administration has answered, and said it has provided extraordinary cooperation.
The report was released after rank-and-file Republicans feared the pressure to get answers on the Benghazi attacks was subsiding.
Some House Republicans want to create a Watergate-style special committee to investigate the attacks, but leaders have resisted, saying the existing investigative, defense, foreign affairs, intelligence and judiciary committees can handle it. Tuesday’s interim report is the result.
The report also could dog Mrs. Clinton if she returns to politics.
The Sept. 11 attacks on the consulate in Benghazi left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The GOP report said the White House was responsible for prohibiting the mention of terrorism, and the report said administration officials were trying to shield themselves from criticism that they had been too lax in security.
“It is clear that the State Department expressed concerns — and was backed by the White House — that the information be removed to avoid criticism for ignoring the general threat environment in Benghazi,” the report said.
Democrats on the five committees fired off a letter Tuesday saying they were left out of the report-writing entirely, and that the end result was biased.
“You are sacrificing accuracy in favor of partisanship,” the ranking Democrats on each committee said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the report goes over old ground and that some of the conclusions conflict with the State Department’s internal review.
“The State Department’s Accountability Review Board — the independent body charged with reviewing the attacks and evaluating the interagency response — released its report which specifically found that the interagency response was ‘timely and appropriate’ and ‘helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans,’ while also making important recommendations to improve security that we are in the process of implementing,” she said.
She said the administration has cooperated with the House committees’ efforts to investigate.
But House Republicans said the State Department’s review fell short. The GOP report said blame for lax security extended all the way to Mrs. Clinton.
The State Department didn’t comment on the report, but Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who took over for Mrs. Clinton this year, told House lawmakers last week that he would appoint a special liaison to try to dispel lingering questions. Still, he dismissed the core of the GOP’s charge.
“I don’t think anybody lied to anybody,” he said.
The Benghazi attacks played a major role in last year’s presidential campaign, with Republican nominee Mitt Romney arguing Mr. Obama was slow in recognizing it was a terrorist assault.
In a major turning point in the presidential debates, Mr. Obama retorted that he had mentioned terrorism in his first remarks on the attacks in a speech from the White House Rose Garden.