Both President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered that all available resources be used to help fend off the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, but top administration officials — including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — put those plans on hold, according to a congressional report, which said the officials instead debated how to appease the Libyan government.
In a draft of its report Tuesday, the Select Committee on Benghazi said that despite clear orders from Mr. Obama and Mr. Panetta, the Pentagon moved slowly and the State Department threw up roadblocks, insisting that U.S. troops wear civilian clothing, forgo the use of wheeled vehicles and get the permission of Libyan leaders before sending help to those fighting for their lives.
Democrats said the report doesn’t do any new damage to Mrs. Clinton, who is their party’s likely presidential nominee. All of the derogatory findings about her were old news, they said.
But Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the committee, said the investigation produced the most thorough account of the run-up to the attack, the timeline of the nearly eight-hour assault and the administration’s attempts in the aftermath to blame an anti-Islamic video.
He said the committee broke ground by reviewing emails of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who lost his life in the attack; by detailing the reasons Mrs. Clinton was so intent on keeping a diplomatic presence in Benghazi; and by reporting on the military’s failure to get any help moving toward the attack scene.
“There is new information on what happened in Benghazi, and that information should fundamentally change the way you view what happened in Benghazi. And there are recommendations made to make sure it does not happen again,” said Mr. Gowdy, pleading with Americans to read the full report and draw their own conclusions.
Perhaps most critically, his report details a video conference at 7:30 on the night of the attack with high-ranking officials from all of the security agencies — and personally attended by Mrs. Clinton. The meeting, which began after Mr. Obama and Mr. Panetta ordered a response, appeared to hinder those orders, with State Department officials raising concerns about offending Libya.
At the meeting, Patrick F. Kennedy, Mrs. Clinton’s undersecretary for management, urged that any military personnel deployed to Libya be clothed in civilian garb rather than in uniform to reduce the chance that their movements would be seen as a U.S. invasion, according to the draft report.
The two-hour meeting also veered off course from saving the lives of those on the ground, with five of the 10 action items focused on the anti-Islamic video.
Even though Mr. Panetta said he was clear in his directions that any assistance be sent, underlings at the Department of Defense appeared to treat that as more prospective, the committee investigation says, based on the 7:30 meeting.
The draft report also delved into why the U.S. was in Benghazi in the first place. It suggested that Mrs. Clinton pressured Americans to maintain their presence, despite a worsening security environment, because she wanted to show Libya as a success for her foreign policy. She was one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S. intervention that toppled the Gadhafi government and had a trip planned to Libya later in the year.
“You look at every step of this, and I am convinced, just as sure as I’m standing here, it happened because of political concerns this administration had,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who was part of the probe. “Why did we stay when the security posture and security position was so dangerous? Why did they mislead the American people? And why were they talking about making sure military went in in civilian clothes and not uniforms?”
The State Department disputed the uniform assertions and said that debate did not delay the military response.
Department spokesman Mark C. Toner confirmed that Mrs. Clinton planned to travel to Benghazi later in 2012 but said the U.S. presence in Benghazi wasn’t only about that visit.
“I would just rebut that by saying that the State Department, the administration and, frankly, Ambassador Stevens, Chris Stevens, felt it was in our foreign policy interests, international security interests, for us to have a presence in Benghazi. And that was what was driving our engagement there,” he said.
Mrs. Clinton, speaking on the campaign trail, said the report was a vindication of her because it didn’t expose any more massive wrongdoing.
“It found nothing — nothing — to contradict the conclusions of the independent accountability board or the conclusions of the prior multiple earlier investigations,” she said.
She said the committee investigation “took on a partisan tinge” and that she remained focused on bigger issues such as maintaining a robust international presence for the U.S.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the report as politically motivated and said it was so biased that the Republican National Committee should report the investigation as an in-kind campaign contribution.
Noting that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, suggested that the investigation helped dent Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers, Mr. Earnest said, “That was their goal. It remains to see if that’s what they accomplished.”
The Republican draft report will need approval by the full investigative committee in a vote next month, and will likely fall along partisan lines.
Democrats on the committee released their own report Monday laying out the administration’s defense. The Democrats took on their face the statements of Mrs. Clinton and her top aides. Republicans said those statements conflicted with the words of security agents on the ground the night of the attack and in the days afterward.
The Benghazi probe interviewed 107 witnesses, including 81 who had not spoken to other congressional probes into the attack. All told, the committee said, it collected 75,000 pages of documents that no other committee had access to.
Most notably, the committee forced Mrs. Clinton to reveal the existence of her secret email server and account — creating a political problem that dogs her to this day.
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.