- (Photo: REUTERS)
The State Department report on the Benghazi attacks of Sept. 11 in Libya that killed an American ambassador and three others revealed some damaging information, concluding that "systemic failures" left U.S. facilities unprotected. It could also leave Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with some political baggage should she choose to run for president in 2016.
Many political pundits view Clinton, who is expected to step down from the top diplomatic post as soon as President Obama is set to name a replacement, as the leading Democrat to win the White House in 2016. Now that the report places much of the blame at the feet of the State Department, it could spell trouble for a potential campaign.
She was expected to testify in Thursday's open congressional hearings, but claimed she fell ill and suffered a concussion in a fall that has left her out of the public spotlight for the time being.
A Wall Street Journal editorial written on Wednesday called for Clinton to appear before the committee at her earliest convenience, suggesting only she could clear up what her staff knew and did not know ahead of the attacks, in spite of any responsibility she may personally shoulder.
"Mrs. Clinton's testimony is months overdue. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the Benghazi consulate staff reported to her," wrote the Journal's editorial staff. "Their safety was her responsibility. Congress needs to flesh out why security was so lacking, why requests for additional protection for the mission were denied, and who made those decisions. It's logical for her not to want to dwell on the worst debacle of her tenure at State. But two months ago, she said 'I take responsibility' for Libya without ever doing so. It's well past time she did."
A special committee appointed by Clinton to review the situation issued their findings late Tuesday on the State Department website, concluding that there were "leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus."
The report also found that there was no evidence of a "spontaneous" protest prior to the attacks as was suggested by the White House and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was dispatched by President Obama the Sunday after the attacks to blame the deaths on Muslims upset over an amateur YouTube video mocking their religion.
However, an analysis of over 4,000 social media postings by a leading monitoring firm found no reference of the anti-Islam film until the day after the attacks.
"From the data we have, it's hard for us to reach the conclusion that the consulate attack was motivated by the movie. Nothing in the immediate picture – surrounding the attack in Libya -- suggests that," Jeff Chapman, chief executive with Agincourt Solutions, told Fox News.
In addition, the report confirmed that heavily armed terrorists coordinated the attacks and that "arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPG's, grenades and mortars" were used to take and destroy the U.S. facility.
Republican lawmakers, despite committee appearances by officials from the State, Pentagon, CIA and Obama administration have grown increasingly frustrated over the absence of a consistent timeline of events.
Yet what may be the first of several resignations began just hours after the report was released. Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, and Charlene Lamb, one of his top aides, tendered their resignations. Apparently, the two were named in the classified version of the official report.
According to a Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll released earlier this month, 60 percent of registered voters have a favorable impression of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with 35 percent seeing her in an unfavorable light.
"One reason why Hillary Clinton's ratings are high may be that she is not running for office and holds a position that many Americans view as non-partisan. If she becomes an active candidate again, it would not be surprising to see her numbers decline," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
One Republican Congressman, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Clinton would take "a big hit" over the Benghazi report.
"She's got some mud on her hands now and she is trying to stay out of the spotlight," they said. "But I feel we must compel her to testify so the American people can determine for themselves what her level of responsibility was."