As much of American politics took a breather on Wednesday to mark the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, Republicans vowed to continue to pursue their investigation into last year’s terrorist attack against a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
Though a year’s worth of investigations have unearthed scant evidence of the cover-up about Benghazi that many Republicans had suggested, GOP lawmakers paired apolitical remembrances of the 2001 terrorist attack with far more barbed words about the one-year anniversary of an attack that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“It is disgraceful that one year later, even though a number of the terrorists who participated in this attack have been identified, not a single one has been brought to justice,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. He added that “this administration hasn’t been upfront with the American people or this Congress. Republicans will not stop until we get to the truth.”
To that end, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced yet another hearing about Benghazi next week.
The speaker’s words reflect the way in which the Benghazi attacks were politicized from the very beginning.
The morning after the attacks, before the details of the incident became clear, then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney emerged to accuse President Barack Obama of “sympathize[ing] with those who waged the attacks.”
But Republicans turned quickly to seize upon the administration’s shifting explanation for the cause of the attacks. The White House initially dispatched then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to assert that the attack in Benghazi (and similar ones against other U.S. embassies) was the spontaneous outgrowth of protests against an anti-Islamic video.
But the administration backtracked and Obama eventually acknowledged the Benghazi attacks were a more sophisticated terrorist attack.
The shifting explanation fed Republicans’ suspicion that the administration had worked to deliberately downplay the terrorist attack for fears that acknowledging it as one would upend the election. At that time, Obama held a steady but small lead over Romney in most polls.
That suspicion has colored Republicans’ continued investigations into Benghazi since then; the notion of a cover-up by Obama has become an article of dogma among most conservative activists, who have pushed elected GOP lawmakers to keep pursuing an investigation.
But Republicans have turned up little evidence of a grand conspiracy in the past year, despite repeated hearings by Issa and a continued push by GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte, N.H., John McCain, Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, S.C. (Issa has complained that his subpoena requests to the State Department have been met with stonewalling.)
Moreover, the administration released almost 100 pages worth of emails in May – after whistleblower testimony raised fresh scrutiny of the administration’s handling of Benghazi – detailing how Rice’s talking points were developed. The inter-agency emails showcased more of a bureaucratic turf war than politically-orchestrated cover-up.
But it seems clear that the administration’s botched response to Benghazi will forever live on as a source of suspicion in some corners of the right as long as Obama remains in office.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for instance suggested during a hearing last week about the president’s request for permission to attack Syria that Obama’s push was timed to distract from the one-year anniversary of Benghazi.
"Why was there no call for military response in April?" he said, asking why Obama hadn't sought to use force after the first indications that Syria had used chemical weapons. "Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals; the failure of Obamacare enforcement; the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration or the upcoming debt limit vote?"
For his part, Obama nodded to the victims in Benghazi while paying tribute to the Sept. 11, 2001 victims at a memorial service on Wednesday at the Pentagon.
“We pray for all those who have stepped forward in those years of war -- diplomats who serve in dangerous posts, as we saw this day last year in Benghazi, intelligence professionals, often unseen and unheralded who protect us in every way -- our men and women in uniform who defend this country that we love,” he said.
First published September 11 2013, 8:41 AM