Republicans face problem turning Benghazi attack into a scandal

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., questions a witness about a State Department cable during a hearing on Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 8, 2013.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., questions a witness about a State Department cable during a hearing on Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 8, 2013.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Politicians love few things better than a scandal to trip up their opponents, and Republicans hope last year’s fatal attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya will do exactly that to Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats.

History suggests it might be a tough lift. The issue is complex, the next presidential election is more than three years away, and a number of reports and officials have disputed criticisms of Clinton’s role when she was secretary of state.

Still, Republicans and conservative talk hosts are hammering away at Clinton’s and the Obama administration’s handling of the 8-month-old tragedy. A daylong House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday starred three State Department officials invited by Republicans. Security was poorly handled in Benghazi, Libya, they said, and administration officials later tried to obscure what happened.

But the three men offered little that has not been aired in previous congressional hearings. Afterward, Republicans all but acknowledged they’re still seeking a knockout punch.

“This hearing is now over, but this investigation is not,” said Darrell Issa of California, the hard-charging Republican chairman of the House committee. He urged “whistle-blowers” and “witnesses who have been afraid to come forward” to step up and “tell us your story, and we will make sure it gets public.”

Aside from crippling Clinton in 2016, Republicans hope public anger over the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath will besmirch congressional Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.

By late Wednesday, Democrats expressed confidence.

“The unsubstantiated Republican allegations about Benghazi disintegrated one by one,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House committee’s top Democrat. “There’s no evidence of a conspiracy to withhold military assets for political reasons, no evidence of a cover-up.”

Clinton, seen by many as the early Democratic favorite for president in 2016, generally drew strong reviews for her four-year stint as secretary of state. Her darkest moment was the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Top administration officials initially said the attackers were spontaneous protesters, angry about an anti-Islamic video. They later acknowledged the attackers were well-equipped terrorists acting under plans.

A major independent inquiry largely absolved Clinton of wrongdoing.

The findings incensed many GOP leaders and conservative news outlets, who portray Benghazi as a simmering scandal about to erupt.

“The people back home are standing with you to get to the truth of this, and they will not sit down until they get the answers,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told relatives of the Benghazi victims.

Ethical lapses and even full-blown scandals have a mixed record of influencing U.S. elections. Watergate not only forced Richard Nixon from the White House in August 1974; it also triggered crushing losses for congressional Republicans in midterm elections three months later.

President Gerald Ford‘s pardon of Nixon may have ended any hope he had of defeating Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Other scandals, however, did far less political damage. The Iran-Contra affair of Ronald Reagan’s second term, and Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky did not prevent either man’s vice president from winning the popular vote in the next presidential election.

More recently, Virginia Democrats were crowing about news that Gov. Bob McDonnell — a potential presidential contender — accepted large, unreported gifts from a businessman. A short time later, a Washington Post poll showed high approval ratings for McDonnell and scant public interest in the budding “scandal” that titillated the state’s political elite.

Some Democratic campaign veterans say the Benghazi affair is too complex and too muddled to swing national elections next year and in 2016.

“The Republicans are pulling out the stops to manufacture a scandal, but it’s not likely to stick on Hillary Clinton or Democrats in general,” said veteran Clinton strategist Doug Hattaway.

Republican consultant Steve Lombardo said: “The impact on 2014 is likely to be minimal. However, there are a few 2016 Democrat White House aspirants who are feeling a little better about their chances today,” especially Vice President Joe Biden.

GOP activists seem determined to push on. The Republican National Committee floods social media sites almost hourly with headlines such as “So many questions about Benghazi.”

Soon after White House press secretary Jay Carney was forced again on Wednesday to defend the administration’s record in the Benghazi attacks, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner issued a point-by-point rejoinder.

A Boehner aide said the speaker will call on the State Department to release internal emails from last September, regarding political fallout from the Benghazi attacks, that were described in part at Wednesday’s hearing by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

Gowdy said he will find the truth, “and I don’t give a damn whose career is impacted.”

Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin showed little concern. “I don’t think there’s a smoking gun today,” he told the panel. “I don’t think there’s a lukewarm slingshot.”

“It may not be a smoking gun or a warm slingshot,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said in the hearing’s final hour. “But we have four dead Americans,” and Georgians “are looking for the truth.”

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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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15 Responses to "Republicans face problem turning Benghazi attack into a scandal"

  1. Sandy Price  May 9, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Get out the pop corn and butter, this is going to be a long movie.

    Every day, the GOP gets uglier and dirtier in their efforts to make a criminal out of our President.

    My sympathy goes out to Secretary Hillary Clinton who will be sent to the guillotine if she dares to run for the White House.

    I’m still not convinced that Obama Care will work for the enormous number of Americans who thrive on their bad habits. I did, however, vote for Obama and even supported his DNC.

  2. egc52556  May 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Clinton, if she wants to run for Prez, needs to quash this ASAP either herself or through proxies.

    Political history teaches that letting allegations go unanswered just lets the attackers set the agenda.

    • RJ  May 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

      That is 3 years away. The only people that care about Benghazi are the one that will never vote for her. Hell, the President was in a re-election in the middle of this…she has nothing to worry about.

  3. Shane Hamlin  May 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

    What is there to quash? What can you send Clinton to the Guillotine for?

  4. Danny Adams  May 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Republicans shot themselves in the foot here well before Benghazi happened. First, the Bush administration spent years coming up with legal reasons why it could stonewall the 9/11 Commission, which Obama is now free to use with Benghazi. And second, in the two years leading up to Benghazi, Republicans voted at least twice to slash the embassy budget–to a total tune of $500 billion–including cutting security. My guess is that they’re hoping this will be an easy scandal, but if it looks like they’ll have to press much harder they’ll give it up so they don’t catch any blowback from these two facts.

  5. Danny Adams  May 9, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Oops, that should’ve been $500 million above, not billion.

  6. Jon  May 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    “tell us your story, and we will make sure it gets public.” (Representative Darrell Issa)

    Or, “invent a good story, and we will make sure it gets on Fox News.”

    [You could be the next Joe The Plumber! Or Kardashian! Don't you want to be famous?!!]

    J.

    PS – Mr. Adams, actually I think your original estimate was low. They’ve spent several *T*rillion dollars reducing American security worldwide (although mostly in the Middle East, there’s still plenty at home).

  7. Joe D  May 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Republicans are only hurting themselves by chewing on this old bone. But at least this keeps them busy so they’re not hurting the country instead!

  8. Wayne K Dolik  May 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    What is this? A political action between republicans and democrats?

    Folks, we have 4 dead people here!

    Who did the stand-down? Who is responcible? Do you people think these brave State department people whom are testifing are enjoying this? They probably will loose their careers.

    CHB readers, please get your head out of the sand!
    (and I am being polite with that.)

    • Andrew  May 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      Seriously. there were 13 attacks on American embassies during bush number 2’s presidency. If anything they should be investigated for being so frequent and causing so many deaths over such a long period, why did the republicans not give the embassies more protection when they were in power, not this one incidence which has been show to be a terrorist attack that was not predictable, meaning they used the cover of the protests about the video that upset them to attack.

      If anything the people here that should be investigated are those calling for an investigation, what are they hiding that they demand this become a big issue when it is just a sad case of a terrorist attack which Obama recognized the next day in the rose garden but which the republicans refuse to accept

      • Jon  May 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm

        But but but… He Kept Us Safe!! (TM)

        Or something…

        As an aside to egc52556: According to the article, all the questions *have* been answered.

        ““The unsubstantiated Republican allegations about Benghazi disintegrated one by one,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House committee’s top Democrat. “There’s no evidence of a conspiracy to withhold military assets for political reasons, no evidence of a cover-up.””

        Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier (and looks much better on TV) to cheerfully cook up more and more allegations than it is to prove each one nonsense.

        One more quote:

        ““It may not be a smoking gun or a warm slingshot,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said in the hearing’s final hour. “But we have four dead Americans,” and Georgians “are looking for the truth.””

        I’d suggest there’s an agriculture company, and probably an entire attitude among agriculture companies (including cutting inspectors on the government side) that a few Texans might like questioned. Four dead? Uh-huh. Thanks, Representative Collins.

        J.

    • Jon  May 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      Does the phrase ‘thrown under the bus’ ring any bells? Col. Oliver North could tell you all about it.

      J.

  9. Bahb dol  May 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    I think the allegation is that they covered up the motivation for the attack so that it didn’t look bad for President Obama…not that they withheld military personnel for political reasons. Either way I’m not really hearing any facts that we haven’t been hearing before. Not sure why we need to keep rehashing this…

  10. SDRSr  May 9, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Because Republican are afraid of Hilary Clinton and are afraid she’ll run for President. Easiest thing to do to stop any potential run is to paint her into their scandal. Additionally, the Republicans, have stated numerous times that they won’t do anything that they think might help President Obama.

    Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Republican subscribe to insanity. They are doing the same thing (hearings on Benghazi) over and over (33, 37 times?) and expecting a different result.

  11. Linda Nevins  May 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    The explanation for all this angst seems pretty simple to me: the Republicans have absolutely no solid political ammunition with which to counter the Democrats (either now or in 2014 and 2016) and must therefore manufacture some as best they can. This admittedly inelegant, slightly unclear Bengazi situation is all they have. The party as a whole, and its sub-standard (WAY sub-standard) “leaders” have little with which to push back at Obama, and even less with which to try to discredit Hillary Clinton before 2016. Instead of coming up with ideas and policies that make them viable candidates, they are desperate to create some scandalous scenario with which to counter Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. Collectively, they are sunk into the kind of denial that leads to failure, shame and error.

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