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Benghazi in Congress’ spotlight again

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  January 16, 2014 at 9:15 AM EDT

The interior of the burnt U.S. consulate building in Benghazi, Libya following the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the building. Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/GettyImages

The conclusion in the Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday that the September 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented sparked a fresh round of debate in Washington over assigning blame for the events that resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The Intelligence panel faulted the State Department for failing to beef up security at the consulate despite warnings about increased threats.

“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya–to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets–and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement.

The Morning Line

The report does not point to any evidence of a political cover-up, as some Republican lawmakers have suggested. Still, the document could hold future political implications, as GOP committee members singled out former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in their addendum to the report. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Anne Gearan write:

The document contains only one mention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom the panel’s Republicans name as the official who should ultimately be held responsible for the failures in Benghazi. Even so, the report is likely to provide fodder for both Republicans and Democrats as Clinton ponders a possible presidential run in 2016.

Gwen Ifill spoke with the Post’s Goldman about the findings in the report on Wednesday’s NewsHour:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, a potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, said “more work needs to be done” when it comes to investigating the administration’s handling of the situation in Benghazi.

“The committee should reexamine former Secretary of State Clinton’s failure to provide adequate security for our deployed personnel in Benghazi, as well as what actions she and others, including the President, took in the hours and days that followed the attack,” Rubio said in a statement.

The Intelligence panel’s report also raises questions about Stevens’ actions in the months leading up to the attacks, noting that he had been made aware of the increased threat on Western targets in Libya, but on at least one occasion turned down an offer for additional security personnel. The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt and David Kirkpatrick report:

At times Mr. Stevens requested additional security personnel from the State Department in Washington. But the inquiry also found that in June 2012, around the time the threats were mounting, Mr. Stevens recommended hiring and training local Libyan guards to form security teams in Tripoli and Benghazi. The plan showed a faith in local Libyan support that proved misplaced on the night of the attack.

During an Aug. 15, 2012, meeting on the deteriorating security around Benghazi that Mr. Stevens attended, a diplomat stationed there described the situation as “trending negatively,” according to a cable sent the next day and quoted in the report. A diplomatic security officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound.”

A C.I.A. officer at the meeting pointed out “the location of approximately 10 Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi,” according to the same cable.

After reading the cable, Gen. Carter F. Ham, then the commander of the United States Africa Command, called Mr. Stevens to ask if the embassy in Tripoli needed additional military personnel, potentially for use in Benghazi, “but Stevens told Ham it did not,” the report said. A short time later, General Ham reiterated the offer at a meeting in Germany, and “Stevens again declined,” the report said.

Even though Clinton’s name only came up once in the report, her handling of the events in Benghazi is likely to remain a focus of Republican lawmakers so long as the possibility exists that she might launch another presidential bid in 2016.

LINE ITEMS

  • The House of Representatives passed the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill Wednesday that outlines how the finer points of the Murray-Ryan budget agreement will fall into place.
  • Stu Rothenberg suggests in Roll Call that the ballooning investigations and media frenzy over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge scandal have “crossed the line from inquiry and investigation to political lynching.”
  • While Rothenberg has never thought Christie would be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016, The Fix’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan explain why Christie should still be considered the leader of the GOP pack.
  • An NBC News/Marist poll finds that Hillary Clinton would still beat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by double digits in a 2016 matchup.
  • ScottBrown.com says a full website is “coming soon,” meaning perhaps the former Republican senator is ready to jump into a 2014 race. A Public Policy Polling survey out Wednesday found him trailing New Hampshire Sen. Jean Shaheen by 3 points.
  • Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., announced Wednesday that he will retire after serving more than two decades in Congress. “It’s time to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next challenge,” Moran said in a statement. Moran won re-election to the heavily Democratic 8th District in Northern Virginia in 2012 with nearly 65 percent of the vote.
  • And Roll Call rounded up the possible Democratic successors to Moran’s seat.
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina joins the chorus of Republican Ssnators who have turned their focus recently to poverty.
  • Americans for Prosperity, the conservative outside group partially funded by Charles and David Koch, has spent $22 million on TV ads for the midterm elections, while other major GOP outside groups are standing by.
  • With the GOP’s conference retreat approaching at the end of the month, GOP leadership in the House is pressing for a “play-it-safe” legislative strategy that will allow voters to focus on Mr. Obama’s failures during the midterms. Not surprisingly, conservative House members are having none of it.
  • A Colorado town of about 550 people may allow residents to become drone hunters, who can shoot at unmanned aircraft entering their city’s airspace.
  • A political rivalry in Albany is brewing. This New York Times lede says it all: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked people if they think Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York State, wears eyeliner. Mr. Schneiderman has told people that he believes Mr. Cuomo’s administration is Machiavellian and is out to undermine him.”
  • Do you eat cold cereal and need a room on the Hill for $800 a month? The Times’ Ashley Parker explains the blow that California Rep. George Miller’s retirement is dealing to the legendary row house he owns and shares with Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
  • Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is set to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” next week.
  • Looks like you’ll be able to spot Washington’s landmarks for some time to come. A Washington Post poll finds that a majority of DC residents oppose changing the city’s height restrictions, as Mayor Vincent Gray has proposed in an effort to ease housing costs.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Abortion rights and free speech clashed at the Supreme Court Wednesday, in a case that tests whether abortion protestors can be prohibited in Massachusetts from coming within 35 feet of the entrance of a clinic. Marcia Coyle explained the case in a segment with Judy Woodruff.
  • And Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America and Steven Aden of Alliance Defending Freedom debated why the abortion and pro-life advocacy groups are so closely watching this First Amendment case.
  • The National Security Agency can infiltrate computers that aren’t connected to the Internet. David Sanger of The New York Times and Cedric Leighton, a former Air Force intelligence officer who served as deputy training director for the NSA, explain how this additional level of the government agency’s surveillance program works.

TOP TWEETS

Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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