Benghazi 101: 5 Things You Need To Know About The Latest Report & The 2016 Election

Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images.
A vehicle and surrounding buildings smolder after they were set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.
"I think it's pretty clear it's time to move on," presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday, referring to the latest and final report detailing what happened during the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans were killed.

But despite the fact that the report is Congress' final investigation into the incident, it seems unlikely that some, including presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, will move on. A new Trump campaign ad released Wednesday — and paid for by the National Rifle Association —brings Benghazi to the forefront once more. The ad, which reportedly cost $2 million, according to the International Business Times, features Benghazi survivor and NRA member Mark "Oz" Geist urging voters to choose Trump.

Benghazi has been in the headlines since the deadly assault took place nearly four years ago. Questions have been raised about then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s and the State Department’s knowledge of the security situation in Libya, and how the safety of U.S. personnel was handled there. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was among the four Americans who lost their lives in the attack. All told, there have been eight other Benghazi investigations.

The final Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi report, which weighed in at more than 800 pages (compared to the 9/11 Commission Report, which was a slimmer 567), included new details about the attack in Libya, but it did not further fault or find evidence of liability by Clinton.

We owe it to those brave Americans to make sure that we learn the right lessons from this tragedy.

Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic nominee
On Tuesday, Clinton echoed what she said previously in the fall of 2015 during her marathon 11-hour testimony for the committee: "No one has thought more about or lost more sleep over the lives that we lost, the four Americans, which was devastating." The presumptive Democratic nominee added: "We owe it to those brave Americans to make sure that we learn the right lessons from this tragedy."

"There is no smoking gun in the congressional Benghazi report,” Bill Schneider, a political analyst and visiting professor at UCLA, told Refinery29 via email. “Still, I think the investigation has been damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign because it sustains the impression that she is always under investigation for something. She may not be guilty, but most voters do not consider her trustworthy.”

So, what happened on September 11, 2012, and how does it tie into the 2016 general election? Here is what you need to know.
Photo: Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on January 23, 2013 about the attack in Benghazi.
What happened on September 11, 2012?
On the evening of Tuesday, September 11, 2012, the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi reported it was under attack. Benghazi was at the time the stronghold of forces that had fought against Libya's longtime authoritarian leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

In the hours that followed, armed militants targeted the U.S. diplomatic mission, buildings were set alight, and mortar rounds were launched at a nearby CIA annex.

Ambassador Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were all killed in the attack. Stevens was the first ambassador to die in office in more than two decades.

Meanwhile, in nearby Egypt, there were protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in response to an American-made, anti-Islamic video. Initially, many reports, including those from Washington, wrongly tied the attack in Libya to the film, as well.

Every report I read that mentions him specifically has a political bent, an accusatory bent.

dr. Ann Stevens, sister of ambassador chris stevens
What is the controversy?
Five days later, while speaking on Sunday television talk shows, Susan Rice, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, echoed the claim that the attack on the consulate began as a "spontaneous reaction" to the anti-Islamic video.

"People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent, and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control," Rice told Fox News Sunday, September 16, 2012.

Criticism of Rice’s portrayal of the Benghazi violence, her failure to link the attacks to terrorism, or to see them as premeditated, caused Republicans to accuse Rice and others in the Obama administration of not being truthful with the American public. This was the beginning of criticism that there might be a "cover up."

Lawmakers immediately began to investigate the deaths in Benghazi. Republicans cited "a clear pattern of security threats" prior to the September 11, 2012 attacks, which they said "could only be reasonably interpreted to justify increased security" for the Americans.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi, tasked by former House Speaker John Boehner, investigated 75,000 pages of documents and interviewed 107 people, of whom, nine had witnessed the attacks.

There is no smoking gun in the congressional Benghazi report. Still, I think the investigation has been damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign because it sustains the impression that she is always under investigation for something.

Bill Schneider, Political Analyst
What’s new in the latest report?
While Clinton isn’t directly blamed, the House report said that she and Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy should have been aware of the risks in Libya.

"The intelligence on which Kennedy and the secretary were briefed daily was clear and pointed — al-Qaida, al-Qaida-like groups, and other regional extremists took refuge in the security vacuum created by the Libyan government and its inability to take command of the security situation," the report found.

The committee, led by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, also cited failures by the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the CIA, concluding that "none of the relevant military forces met their required deployment timelines."

Before the Republican findings were released, Democrats put out their own report, saying they were committed to debunking "many conspiracy theories about the attacks." The Democratic authors of the report took issue with the timing of the GOP's report, saying it was meant to be politically damaging to Clinton.

"Everything about the congressional investigation has been partisan," Professor Schneider said. "Partisanship is unavoidable in an election year when the subject of the investigation involves a nominee for president. But the Clintons have long been highly polarizing figures."

Ambassador Stevens' family say that they do not blame Clinton and agreed that his death was being politicized.

"Every report I read that mentions him specifically has a political bent, an accusatory bent," his sister, Anne Stevens, MD, PhD, told The New Yorker.

"It would be much more useful for Congress to focus on providing resources for security for all State Department facilities around the world — for increasing personnel, language capabilities, for increasing staff to build relationships, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East," Stevens added.

this Committee's chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Brian Fallon, Clinton spokesperson
Hillary Clinton’s Reaction
Clinton accepted responsibility shortly after the deadly attacks in Libya, telling CNN in 2012, "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts." She added that she wanted to avoid the "blame game."

But that didn’t put an end to almost four years of finger pointing on Capitol Hill, with the Clinton camp describing the latest Republican-led report as a "partisan sham."

"After more than two years and more than $7 million in taxpayer funds, the committee report has not found anything to contradict the conclusions of the multiple, earlier investigations," Brian Fallon, a Clinton spokesperson, said in a statement.

"This report just confirms what Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and even one of Trey Gowdy's own former staffers admitted months ago: This Committee's chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign."

Benghazi is just another Hillary Clinton failure. It just never seems to work the way it's supposed to with Clinton.

donald trump, presumptive republican nominee
The 2016 General Election
So, what now? While Clinton has pulled ahead of Trump in the latest polls, the timing of this Benghazi report hasn’t helped.

Trump chimed in, of course, tweeting, "Benghazi is just another Hillary Clinton failure. It just never seems to work the way it's supposed to with Clinton."

But "fairly tame" was how Politico characterized the Trump campaign's talking points, which included: "This report is further proof that Clinton does not have the ability to keep Americans safe, she has continually lied about what caused the attack, she has deflected questions on the incident, and she has chosen to ignore the what has happened in Benghazi, rather than take responsibility and learn from her mistakes."

Ultimately, Schneider doesn't think Benghazi will be Clinton's biggest challenge this election cycle.

The Democratic presidential candidate’s "image as untrustworthy is a problem, but she has a bigger problem for 2016. She is the candidate of the status quo," Schneider told Refinery29. "It's not impossible for Trump to win, but it would take an extraordinary event, like a sensational terrorist attack or a recession, which could happen as a consequence of Brexit. Anything that leads voters to say, 'We can't go on like this.'"

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