Benghazi scandal: How did we get here?

Published 5:31 PM EDT, Tue June 28, 2016
A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012  in Benghazi, Libya following an overnight attack on the building. The US ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues were killed in an attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city by Islamists outraged over an amateur American-made Internet video mocking Islam, less than six months after being appointed to his post.  AFP PHOTO/STRINGER        (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages)
A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya following an overnight attack on the building. The US ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues were killed in an attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city by Islamists outraged over an amateur American-made Internet video mocking Islam, less than six months after being appointed to his post. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages)
PHOTO: STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages
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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22:  Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi October 22, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing to continue its investigation on the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on the evening of September 11, 2012.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Republicans released an 800-page report covering a two-year investigation of the Benghazi attacks Tuesday

House Democrats, however, put out their own report Monday accusing the GOP of wasting taxpayer money

(CNN) —  

The U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and burned on September 11, 2012, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and another State Department employee.

Armed militants also attacked a nearby CIA annex with mortar fire, killing two additional Americans as security personnel engaged in a pitched battle with the attackers.

What have been the main controversies?

The first major point of contention was whether the violence was a premeditated terror attack or a spontaneous response to an American-made video mocking Islam, as some in the Obama administration initially claimed and top officials, such as then-Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, repeated in talking points approved by the White House. Republicans charged that Rice and other figures were misleading the public for political reasons.

As details of the events emerged, critics raised additional questions about whether the State Department had provided adequate security at the outposts in strife-torn Benghazi and whether some high-level officials on the ground or in Washington told back-up security forces to “stand down” rather than offer support while U.S. personnel were still under fire.

RELATED: Benghazi panel caps 2-year probe: No bombshell, faults administration

In the wake of the attacks, multiple investigations have been conducted to determine what went wrong. Republicans have consistently blamed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Democrats have pointed to the role of lower-level State Department and security officials.

A State Department Accountability Review Board investigation was launched soon after the incident, followed by several congressional inquiries. The most recent, by the Select Committee on Benghazi, discovered in the course of its review that Clinton had used a private email server to conduct official business while running the State Department.

What happened today?

House Republicans from the Select Committee released an 800-page report covering a two-year investigation of the Benghazi attacks Tuesday. Republicans say that the latest investigation has yielded new witnesses and new revelations.

House Democrats, however, put out their own report Monday accusing the GOP of wasting taxpayer money on a political exercise whose goal was to tarnish Clinton.

Two members of the committee, Republicans Mike Pompeo and Jim Jordan, released their own account of the events taking a much harsher line against the administration, accusing Clinton and President Barack Obama of a “tragic failure of leadership.”

What does the report say?

The report contains no bombshell revelations, nor any new evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, but it does fault the Obama administration for security lapses.

The dossier paints a picture of bureaucratic ineptitude, a rapidly worsening security in Libya and inadequate resources in the months that led up to the killing of Stevens and his three colleagues.

The report details numerous requests the embassy made to bolster the security presence in Benghazi but finds that those requests were either ignored or rejected by officials in Washington. The report does not lay the blame for these failures on Clinton but on lower-level officials.

It also highlights the military’s inability to react quickly to the events on the ground, noting that it took over six hours for military assets to deploy after then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had ordered a military response.

However, it appears that the infamous “stand down” order was never given, though some of the CIA security contractors who were the first to respond to the attacks said that their station chief had told them to wait while additional resources could be marshaled.

The report provides testimony that State Department officials knew that the protests had been overly emphasized in administration messaging but the responsibility for the talking points was placed with the CIA.

What about Clinton’s role?

The report says that Clinton and a top aide, Patrick Kennedy, should have realized the risks posed to the Benghazi mission by extremist groups given that available intelligence indicated Libya was a terrorist “safe haven” and suggested an attack was possible.

“It is not clear what additional intelligence would have satisfied either Kennedy or the Secretary in understanding the Benghazi mission compound was at risk – short of an attack,” the report says.

The report also says that one of the reasons Stevens was at the mission in Benghazi was to help prepare for a trip that Clinton was planning to Libya in October, suggesting that could have contributed to keeping an unsecure facility active.

Why is this happening now?

The committee wrapped up its work in time for the nominating conventions – giving Republicans an opportunity to hammer Clinton about Benghazi throughout the entire general election.

Though Republicans have denied a political motivation for the select committee’s work, and Chairman Trey Gowdy won’t talk politics, GOP members launched into their attacks right away. The Pompeo-Jordan report calls Clinton’s leadership “morally reprehensible.”

The committee claimed in a news release that the report “fundamentally changes the public’s understanding of the 2012 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans.” In reality, it fleshes out the same overall narrative that other investigations have found – in time for Republicans to use those details against Clinton.

What does this mean for Clinton?

Almost nothing.

The committee didn’t drop any damaging new findings into the 2016 presidential election – and that’s good news for Clinton. But the impact of Benghazi, much like her use of a private email server, is already baked into polling results that show her struggling to be viewed as trustworthy.

Clinton’s campaign dismissed the committee as “partisan,” and that’s how the report will be seen by Democrats. Still, by issuing the report, Gowdy’s panel thrust the issue of Benghazi back into the spotlight, and its findings won’t stop Republicans from attacking Clinton over her actions.

That much was made clear by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who tweeted upon the report’s release: “Hillary Clinton was in charge, knew the risks, & did nothing. The report makes clear we can’t afford to let Clinton be commander-in-chief.”

What are the potential next steps?

The report isn’t official until the committee votes to accept it, which is expected in early July. But its release means the deepest, longest-lasting investigation into the Benghazi incident is finished.

If Democrats get their wishes, voters will see House Republicans as having overstepped – launching a two-year investigation and spending more than $7 million, only to replicate the findings of earlier investigations.

That Jordan and Pompeo decided to release their own report to complement Gowdy’s suggests there was division within the GOP’s ranks over just how far to go in criticizing Clinton and Obama – a key possibility to watch as the impact of the report becomes clear in the coming days.

What happened in the Benghazi attacks?