Gowdy Defends Benghazi Report, Touts New Details

Gowdy Defends Benghazi Report, Touts New Details
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Rep. Trey Gowdy on Tuesday forcefully defended the two years and millions of dollars Republicans spent investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack, insisting that the long-anticipated 800-page report his committee released contained new details that fundamentally shifted what was known about it.

The committee’s investigation has long been embroiled in partisan warfare, with Democrats arguing it was simply a political weapon to use against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she runs for president. Republicans, on the other hand, have accused Democrats of stonewalling and intentionally impeding the committee’s work, and turning it into a partisan affair.

Against that backdrop, Gowdy defended the committee’s work while carefully avoiding making any political statements against Clinton or the Obama administration, saying he would let the facts of the report speak for themselves. The South Carolina Republican insisted – despite Democratic objections – that there was new information in the report that hadn’t been covered in the multiple previous congressional investigations into Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in on the U.S. compound in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“There is new information on what happened in Benghazi, and that information should fundamentally change the way you view what happened in Benghazi,” Gowdy said during a press conference.

The new information, Gowdy said, included details on a two-hour White House meeting among top officials the night of the attack; the fact that no military assets were deployed to Benghazi after the attack began; the fact that no military assets met their deployment timetables the evening of the attack; and the fact that the forces that evacuated Americans from the compound in Benghazi were former loyalists to Muammar Qaddafi, the dictator the Obama administration helped topple.

Gowdy also pointed out that because of revelations about Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state – which was uncovered because of the committee’s investigation – they were able to access new details, including emails from Ambassador Stevens that gave insight into conditions in Benghazi before the attack.

Democrats, who released their own report on the committee’s work Monday that criticized Gowdy and his colleagues, pushed back on the notion that some of these facts were new.

“Since Republicans were unable to find any ‘smoking gun’ on Hillary Clinton, they instead tried to justify the Select Committee’s two-year, $7 million investigation by highlighting anything new they could possibly find,” ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said in a statement. “The problem is that many of the very claims Republicans are now saying are new were reported years ago, and they do not change our fundamental understanding of what happened in Benghazi.”

Though much of the report’s release focused on Clinton, Gowdy was careful Tuesday to not criticize the former secretary of state during his press conference, avoiding multiple direct questions about Clinton’s involvement that could have appeared to tie a political motive to the investigation. He said he had experience in the “who, what, when and where” but “not the why”; he demurred when asked specifically if there was one person who he would blame for the attacks, saying he wasn’t “in the business of apportioning culpability”; and when asked point blank if Clinton lied, he responded, “That's a word you couldn't use in a courtroom."

Gowdy’s colleagues on the committee, however, weren’t as reserved. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Pompeo of Kansas authored an addendum to the report that was far more critical of the Obama administration and Clinton for their roles in the attack, suggesting the state department was “seemingly more concerned with politics and Secretary Clinton’s legacy than with protecting its people in Benghazi.”

Jordan and Pompeo both directly called out Clinton and the Obama administration during the press conference, even as their chairman sought to avoid doing so. Jordan pointed out that Libya was “supposed to be the crowning jewel of the Clinton State Department foreign policy,” and suggested that the decisions made after the attack were politically motivated. Pompeo pointed out the attack came just 56 days before the election and suggested there was “no fog of war” during the attack, a direct rebuke of Clinton, who previously attributed her initial responses to the attack to that.

He also described Clinton’s leadership as “morally reprehensible.”

Gowdy, visibly irritated by some of the questions about the politics associated with the report, urged reporters and the public to read all 800 pages and draw their own conclusions. He insisted the report was not intended to be a political weapon against Clinton, but rather was an effort to detail all facts of the attack, and said he was proud of the work his committee completed.

“If you can read this report and you believe on the last page of the report that it is about one person instead of about four people, then there's nothing I can say that's going to disabuse you of that,” he said, referring to Clinton, then the four Americans who died during the attack. “That's just what you believe. And there's no amount of facts and no amount of evidence that is going to dissuade you from your previously held conviction.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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