The final report of the House Select Committee on Benghazi claims that the military never lifted a finger to rescue the American citizens imperiled in the 13-hour terror attack, despite receiving orders to do everything possible to stop the bloodshed.
The scathing report, released Tuesday morning, also found that senior members of the Obama administration, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior White House adviser Ben Rhodes, twisted the facts during and after the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, to preserve the illusion that the threat of terrorism was fading, just weeks before President Obama's re-election.
Republicans on the committee revealed Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was among the four Americans killed in the siege, had traveled to Benghazi in September 2012 to work on a "deliverable" for Clinton ahead of her own trip there later that fall. Stevens was preparing the temporary diplomatic facility in Benghazi to become a permanent post, something Clinton would have announced on her swing through the Libyan city if the facility had not been attacked.
The report was the result of 25 months of work, more than 100 witness interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents by the select committee, which was convened in May 2014 to perform the last autopsy on the circumstances surrounding Benghazi.
Those interviews included 81 witnesses who had never before spoken with Congress, despite the fact that five different congressional committees had produced eight separate reports in addition to an internal State Department probe launched shortly after the attack.
The select committee was the first to ask the State Department to hand over emails from Stevens. It was also the first to uncover Clinton's use of a private email network to shield her government communications, an arrangement that has haunted her presidential campaign since becoming public in March 2015.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the select committee, vowed to conduct a "thorough, fact-centric" investigation of the events before, during and after the Benghazi attack.
But his investigation became politicized shortly after Clinton's email controversy came to light, as Democrats accused the committee of targeting Clinton in an attempt to weaken her political prospects.
Virtually every witness but Clinton agreed to speak to the panel behind closed doors in transcribed sessions, a practice meant to encourage candor. Clinton, however, was able to slay fears about her viability in the face of Benghazi allegations by appearing before the select committee for a public hearing last October.
The former secretary of state survived the 11-hour interview without stumbling, a showing that ultimately sapped much of the committee's credibility, at least in the eyes of its Democratic foes.
Minority members on the panel even flirted with a push to end their own investigation after the hearing, citing the fact that Clinton's testimony exposed few new details.
Democrats on the Benghazi committee attempted to blunt the impact of the findings released Tuesday by publishing their own report one day earlier, in which minority members called out what they saw as "abuses" by Gowdy and other panel Republicans.
Gowdy's findings questioned the administration's dubious reasons for placing diplomatic personnel in Benghazi despite clear and consistent warnings of violence in the area.
The temporary mission in Benghazi was on the road to becoming a permanent facility in the fall of 2012, when Stevens and a skeleton security team headed to the coastal Libyan city to prepare the announcement of a lasting U.S. presence there.
According to the committee's report, U.S. officials had reported an "increase in extremist activity" in June 2012 as other Western powers in the area withdrew their people out of concern for their safety.
Other investigations had detailed the string of attacks in Libya that preceded the Benghazi raid, but none had exposed the motivations behind Stevens' activities in the region: laying the groundwork for an upcoming visit from Clinton, where she hoped to announce the establishment of a permanent diplomatic post in Benghazi.
Just hours before the 800-page majority report was set for release, a pair of Republican committee members, Reps. Jim Jordan and Mike Pompeo, published a relatively brief analysis of the findings. The summary report excoriated Clinton and the rest of the administration for obscuring the true nature of the attack in public statements.
One of the most significant questions looming over the Benghazi committee's investigation was whether military assets could have reached the diplomatic compound or CIA annex in time to spare any of the four Americans who lost their lives in the violence.
Democrats maintained in their report that the Pentagon could not have reacted any differently given its posture on the night of the attack
But Republican members have highlighted the fact that not a single wheel turned toward Benghazi at any point after the attack began.
If it was true that the military expended every effort possible to save the Americans under siege in Libya, they said, then the investigation should have uncovered evidence that forces were en route to Benghazi when they learned they were going to arrive too late.
Instead, no assets were deployed for Benghazi until after the violence had largely subsided.
"Although a Department of Defense drone circled overhead in Benghazi during much of the attack, the military never sent an armed drone that could possibly have changed the course of events during the hours-long siege, especially as terrorists pounded the Annex with mortar fire," Pompeo and Jordan noted in their analysis. "An armed drone never came."
The majority report said the Pentagon learned of the attack at 4:32 p.m. Washington time.
Within three hours, the Defense Department's chief of staff was emailing high-level Pentagon and State Department officials to inform them that nearby assets were "spinning up" in preparation to head for Benghazi pending approval of the Libyan government and U.S. "principals."
No forces ever moved toward Benghazi.
The finding troubled some Republicans on the committee, who pointed out that Obama and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta maintain that they issued orders to the military to do everything possible to rescue the Americans in Benghazi. Yet that sense of urgency did not motivate any forces to take off, raising questions about what exactly was communicated to assets in the region.
The report noted Clinton did not speak with the president about the attack until roughly 10:30 p.m. Washington time, which was after she put out her first public statement blaming the violence on a protest.
Gowdy's committee struggled to secure cooperation from the Pentagon in its quest to interview the drone sensor pilots who had access to images captured by the surveillance drone that flew over Benghazi on the night of the attack.
Committee Republicans excoriated the administration for focusing on the optics of the Benghazi attack given the political context of the 2012 election.
Emails obtained by the committee show high-level officials were discussing how Mitt Romney's campaign was spinning the attack as the siege in Benghazi was still underway.
Instead of focusing solely on how the U.S. government could bring its overwhelmingly superior resources to bear in an attempt to save Americans, administration officials spent much of a two-hour teleconference call the night of Sept. 11 discussing ways to present the attack to the public.
In an email sent the morning of Sept. 12, a spokesman for the National Security Council urged dozens of officials across the administration to stay "in sync on messaging" about the attack. He instructed officials not to deviate from the statements released by Clinton and Obama.
"Both the President and Secretary Clinton released statements this morning," the email said, according to the report. "Please refer to those for any comments for the time being. To ensure we are all in sync on messaging for the rest of the day, [senior White House adviser] Ben Rhodes will host a conference call for USG communicators on this chain at 9:15 ET today."