Two years, $7 million, 800 pages later, GOP Benghazi report lands with a thud

GWEN IFILL: After years of investigations, interviews, and hearings, the House special committee looking into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, released 800 pages of findings today.

The assault, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, slams the Obama administration for lax security and a sluggish response, but it doesn't lay blame at then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's doorstep.

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, the panel's chairman, said Clinton, now the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee, was never the focus of the inquiry.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), Chairman, House Select Committee on Benghazi: Speaker Boehner asked me to find out what happened to four of our fellow citizens, and I believe that that is what I have done.

You are welcome to read that report. I hope you will. I know you will. If you at the end of reading that report can conclude that it is about one person, instead of about four people, I will be shocked. I think the American people ought to look at it. They ought to look at it because fellow Americans died and fellow Americans were injured and fellow Americans went to heroic lengths to save other Americans. What conclusions they draw after reading it is up to them.

GWEN IFILL: The White House, and Clinton herself, said the investigation was always politically motivated. She weighed in during a campaign stop today in Denver.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Former Secretary of State: After more than two years and $7 million spent by the Benghazi committee out of taxpayer funds, it had to today report that it had found nothing, nothing to contradict the conclusions of the independent accountability board or the conclusions of the prior multiple earlier investigations.

I will leave it to others to characterize this report, but I think it's pretty clear it's time to move on.

GWEN IFILL: Lisa Desjardins has been reading into the report and its findings. She joins me now.

Whether politically motivated or not, Lisa, what new did we learn, if anything, from this report?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, this report in all 800 pages has highlights of 22 new facts that the committee says it learned.

When you look through those facts, there's two kinds. I think the most important ones are about the failures in the Defense Department and in the intelligence community that led to Benghazi and led to the Americans there not being protected, including some as simple as then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordering that three different teams be deployed to the area, but yet those orders weren't conveyed for an hour-and-a-half, and even at that point, they weren't followed.

So, I think the most critical part is about the security sector here and failures on that level. Now, the second group has to deal with how the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton and all of that staff reacted and then how they dealt with Congress later.

GWEN IFILL: Eleven hours of hearings, we remember, before this committee as they tried to get to the bottom of this, and yet you would think that, if Hillary Clinton would speak to the committee for that long, that this report would at least be in part about Hillary Clinton, but it seems not to be.

LISA DESJARDINS: No.

And I went through this report carefully as much as I could in the eight hours I had today after it came out. When you look at it, Hillary Clinton actually is not the number one official named in it. That's actually Susan Rice, who was then the U.N. ambassador, now national security adviser.

And I think that's because Susan Rice had the most forward amount of statements claiming that Benghazi was, in fact, led or caused by protests, which later we know the administration had reason to believe was untrue, but there may have been miscommunication or was it on purpose? This report doesn't answer those questions.

GWEN IFILL: The Republicans on the committee itself don't even seem to necessarily agree. We have heard Kirk (sic) Gowdy saying strenuously this wasn't political, but there are other members who disagree.

LISA DESJARDINS: That's right.

I think Democrats on the committee certainly say this was political and politically constructed. They say there were many witnesses whose testimony wasn't released because it supported the administration and particularly supported Hillary Clinton.

You know, I think those who talk about Benghazi, the hashtag #Benghazi, people might even not know what really happened there, are asking, did Hillary Clinton know about this attack? Did she let it happen? Did she cover it up? This report doesn't indicate she did any of that.

GWEN IFILL: Now, of course, I just called him Kirk Gowdy, and not Trey Gowdy, so there's a big difference there.

But he's obviously the chairman of the committee. But there were Democrats who put out their own report yesterday trying to get ahead of this, saying, what, no problem, nothing to see here?

LISA DESJARDINS: They're saying even more than that. They're saying that the Republicans really constructed this. And they're also saying this was a waste of taxpayer dollars. We know this was about a $7 million committee.

Now, for those who point to this was a huge failure of intelligence defense in a sector of the world where we have serious and growing terrorist threats, they say it was well worth it. But you also look at this, Gwen. Another two-year investigation that we know of in recent years, the 9/11 Commission, that lasted two years, that was about $12 million. So you can compare those side by side.

GWEN IFILL: You have been covering politics for a while. You know the way these things work. Was it really about the findings in this report or is it about the fact that the word Benghazi itself has become such a hot button?

LISA DESJARDINS: That completely depends on who you ask.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

LISA DESJARDINS: I think, when you heard Trey Gowdy speaking, he is saying, I really was trying to get to the bottom of this. I didn't want this to become political.

But then we heard from the House majority leader, who — Mr. McCarthy, who indicated that it was successful because it brought out the e-mail server information about Hillary Clinton. That's why we know she had that private e-mail server is because of this. Kevin McCarthy indicated that was a win. That led to his downfall.

So I think what happened here is, we actually don't know a lot about who said, did what, who was to blame for what. But because of this investigation, we have seen many political figures take significant hits.

GWEN IFILL: And it's led to other investigations, as investigations in Washington often do.

LISA DESJARDINS: Sure.

GWEN IFILL: Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.

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