REUTERS - Congressional Republicans on Tuesday accused the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of failing to protect U.S. diplomats in the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed four Americans.
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In an 800-page report that Democrats have derided as a political vendetta, Republicans also accused Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and her staff of a "shameful" lack of response to congressional investigators looking into the tragedy and assailed Clinton's use of a private email server for official business.
The findings are sure to fuel attacks on Clinton on the presidential campaign trail, where she faces the Republicans' presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, but they do not reveal any new substantial evidence of Clinton's culpability with regard to the attack.
Clinton's campaign dismissed the report as a partisan effort to derail her candidacy, arguing that the committee had not found anything that had not been discovered by previous congressional probes.
"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," Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement, adding that "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."
At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the special panel, outlined what he said was a disconnect between the unfolding violence on the ground in Benghazi and the perception among top Obama administration officials that "the fighting had subsided" at the U.S. diplomatic compound.
Gowdy said the panel uncovered "new information on what happened in Benghazi," including details contained in emails from then-Secretary Clinton that were handed over to the committee.
Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, did not mention Clinton by name in a statement he released but said committee's report "makes clear that officials in Washington failed our men and women on the ground when they were in need of help."
The lack of a mention of Clinton may have been aimed at rebutting Democrats' claims that the probe was politically driven. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, Ryan's lieutenant, last year suggested that the panel was established, in part, to stall Clinton's political momentum.
Trump has regularly blamed Clinton for the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others in attacks in Benghazi by militia groups on Sept. 11, 2012, and said the incident undercuts her argument that she is the stronger candidate on national security.
Trump's campaign had no immediate comment, but Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Clinton's actions as secretary of state were "disqualifying."
"Hillary Clinton was in charge, knew the risks, and did nothing" to protect personnel on the ground in Libya, he said.
Democrats on the Benghazi committee released their own report a day before Tuesday's release, accusing Republicans of conducting an overzealous investigation.
According to a website maintained by committee Democrats, the investigation cost more than $7.1 million, a figure that excludes money spent on investigations by the seven other congressional committees that investigated the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA posts in Benghazi.
The Gowdy committee investigation lasted 782 days, longer than congressional probes of Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra scandal and Hurricane Katrina.
Since it was established in May 2014, the Gowdy committee held four public hearings, according to its website, which said that it interviewed 107 witnesses, mostly behind closed doors, including 81 who never appeared before the other committees that investigated the attacks. It reviewed about 75,000 pages of previously unexamined documents.