May 9, 2013 10:34:53 AM
WASHINGTON -- Politicians love few things better than a scandal to trip up their opponents, and Republicans hope last year's fatal attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya will do exactly that to Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats.
History suggests it might be a tough lift. The issue is complex, the next presidential election is more than three years away, and a number of reports and officials have disputed criticisms of Clinton's role when she was secretary of state.
Still, Republicans and conservative talk hosts are hammering away at Clinton's and the Obama administration's handling of the 8-month-old tragedy. A daylong House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday starred three State Department officials invited by Republicans. Security was poorly handled in Benghazi, Libya, they said, and administration officials later tried to obscure what happened.
But the three men offered little that has not been aired in previous congressional hearings. Afterward, Republicans all but acknowledged they're still seeking a knockout punch.
"This hearing is now over, but this investigation is not," said Darrell Issa of California, the hard-charging Republican chairman of the House committee. He urged "whistle-blowers" and "witnesses who have been afraid to come forward" to step up and "tell us your story, and we will make sure it gets public."
Aside from crippling Clinton in 2016, Republicans hope public anger over the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath will besmirch congressional Democrats in next year's midterm elections.
By late Wednesday, Democrats expressed confidence.
"The unsubstantiated Republican allegations about Benghazi disintegrated one by one," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House committee's top Democrat. "There's no evidence of a conspiracy to withhold military assets for political reasons, no evidence of a cover-up."
Clinton, seen by many as the early Democratic favorite for president in 2016, generally drew strong reviews for her four-year stint as secretary of state. Her darkest moment was the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Top administration officials initially said the attackers were spontaneous protesters, angry about an anti-Islamic video. They later acknowledged the attackers were well-equipped terrorists acting under plans.