WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats concluded Thursday the U.S. military wasn't ordered to "stand down" during last year's attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, rejecting Republican claims the Obama administration held back military assets while Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The 80-page report ordered by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, senior Democrat on the House oversight committee, also defended a Benghazi review led by former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. Both are veterans of Democratic and Republican administrations.
Questions about the independence of the review have become a recent focus of congressional investigations, which are continuing more than a year after the Sept. 11 attack. GOP lawmakers have lambasted the duo for not questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham; the Democratic report said Clinton's conduct was reviewed, but that she had no role in Benghazi security decisions.
However, echoing the review by Pickering and Mullen, Democrats did find significant fault with the State Department for establishing Benghazi as a "temporary post" without the full security of an embassy or consulate. That could provide ammunition for criticism of Clinton as she gears up for a potential presidential run in 2016, given that she would have been involved in approving a U.S. mission in the largely lawless city after Libya's 2011 civil war.
The oversight committee was scheduled to hear from Pickering and Mullen at a hearing Thursday. The chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and fellow Republicans released their own highly critical report earlier this week.
Democrats called accusations of a stand-down order during the attack "unfounded."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Mullen's successor as top U.S. general, stated as much at a Senate hearing in June. The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee endorsed the military's position after a classified hearing with other senior officials in July.
Still, several Republicans reiterated the claim at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
"Who gave the stand-down order?" asked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
"There was no stand-down order," Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, answered.