WASHINGTON — Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.
The 800-page report, however, included some new details about the night of the attacks, and the context in which it occurred, and it delivered a broad rebuke of government agencies like the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department — and the officials who led them — for failing to grasp the acute security risks in the Libyan city, and especially for maintaining outposts in Benghazi that they could not protect.
The committee, led by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, also harshly criticized an internal State Department investigation that it said had allowed officials like Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, to effectively choose who would investigate their actions. In addition, it reiterated Republicans’ complaints that the Obama administration had sought to thwart the investigation by withholding witnesses and evidence.
The report, however, did not dispute that United States military forces stationed in Europe could not have reached Benghazi in time to rescue the personnel who died — a central finding of previous inquiries.
Still, it issued stinging criticism of the overall delay in response and the lack of preparedness on the part of the government.
“The assets ultimately deployed by the Defense Department in response to the Benghazi attacks were not positioned to arrive before the final lethal attack,” the committee wrote. “The fact that this is true does not mitigate the question of why the world’s most powerful military was not positioned to respond.”
“What was disturbing from the evidence the Committee found was that at the time of the final lethal attack,” the panel added, “no asset ordered deployed by the Secretary had even left the ground.
But the lack of any crisp, hard-hitting allegation of professional misconduct or dereliction of duty, was certain to fuel further criticism of the length the investigation — more than two years — and the expense, estimated at more than $7 million, in addition to Democrats’ allegations that the inquiry was specifically intended to damage Mrs. Clinton’s presidential prospects.
And in a sign that Mr. Gowdy was also facing pressure from the right, two of the committee’s conservative members, Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Pompeo of Kansas, wrote a 48-page addendum including somewhat harsher criticism of the Obama administration, its response to the attacks and its subsequent public explanations.
“Officials at the State Department, including Secretary Clinton, learned almost in real time that the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” Mr. Jordan and Mr. Pompeo wrote. “With the presidential election just 56 days away, rather than tell the American people the truth and increase the risk of losing an election, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly.”
Technically, the report is not final until the full committee formally votes to accept it, but with the Republican majority firmly in support there is little doubt it will do so at a hearing scheduled for July 8. Still, some changes are possible, if they are accepted and approved by a majority vote.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has been shadowed by the inquiry into the deaths of the four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“After more than two years and more than $7 million in taxpayer funds, the Committee report has not found anything to contradict the conclusions of the multiple, earlier investigations,” a spokesman for the Clinton campaign said in a statement. “This report just confirms what Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and even one of Trey Gowdy’s own former staffers admitted months ago: this Committee’s chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
By far, the committee’s most significant disclosure, even by Republicans’ own account, was unintentional and not directly related to Benghazi: that Mrs. Clinton had exclusively used a private email server during her four years as secretary of state. That revelation has spurred separate investigations into whether classified material was mishandled.
While that discovery has reverberated throughout the campaign, Democrats have long denounced the select committee’s investigation as a politically motivated crusade against Mrs. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
The Democrats on the committee — summarizing their complaints most recently in a report they issued on Monday, seeking to pre-empt the Republicans’ findings — said that the Benghazi effort had dragged on longer than far more important congressional inquiries like the ones into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
In their report, the Democrats also complained that they had been excluded from the development of the panel’s conclusions. They said they had not been given a draft of the final report or allowed to contribute to it.
House Republicans added, inadvertently at times, to the general sense that the committee was focusing too intently on Mrs. Clinton, even though she was never suspected of directly mishandling the Benghazi situation. Democrats seized on comments by the House majority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, who boasted on Fox News in September that the committee’s work had put a dent in Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy said. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.”
Those comments helped derail Mr. McCarthy’s bid to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner. Mr. Gowdy has long disavowed the remarks, saying the discovery of the private email server was highly unexpected and not a focus of his continuing work.
The discovery that Mrs. Clinton had used the private email server, including during the time of the Benghazi attack, led to at least a temporary shift in focus of the investigation, which had already shown signs of drifting and dragging amid the acrimony between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.
There was also internal discord, which led to a former investigator for the committee, Bradley F. Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve, filing a lawsuit alleging that he was fired for trying to conduct a thorough investigation into attacks while superiors wanted to focus on the private email server.
The committee said Mr. Podliska was fired for cause, including mishandling of classified information.
In the most dramatic confrontation over the two years of the investigation, Mrs. Clinton testified before the committee for more than eight hours in October.
The hearing, which took place not long after Mr. McCarthy made his remarks, was widely perceived to have backfired on Republicans, as Mrs. Clinton answered their questions and coolly deflected their attacks. The hearing produced no major revelations about Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi assaults.
By the time of her testimony, Mrs. Clinton had already taken responsibility for the State Department’s handling of the attacks.
The previous investigations had concluded that State Department officials had erred in not better securing the diplomatic compound amid reports of a deteriorating security situation. But the inquiries also determined that the attacks had come with little warning and that it would have been difficult to intervene once they had begun.
The investigations generally concluded that after the attack, the Obama administration’s talking points — a matter of much dispute — were flawed but not deliberately misleading.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Mr. Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department information officer, were killed in an attack on the main American diplomatic compound in Benghazi by a mob of militia fighters who had been incited by an American-made video deriding the Prophet Muhammad. The fighters were apparently further inflamed by news of an assault on the American Embassy in Cairo.
Two other Americans, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, who were contractors for the C.I.A., died later when a separate annex run by the agency came under mortar attack.
Previous investigations, including the internal inquiry by the State Department, found serious security gaps but also concluded that American forces could not have reached Benghazi in time to save the Americans, despite claims by some Republicans that Mrs. Clinton had ordered troops to “stand down.”
The Republican-controlled House adopted a resolution establishing the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, Libya, on May 8, 2014. The vote was 232 to 186 with seven Democrats joining Republicans in favor. Not a single Republican opposed the resolution.
At that point, in addition to the State Department’s review, there had been at least seven other congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks. A House Intelligence Committee investigation, perhaps the most comprehensive until now, found that Obama administration officials had not intentionally misled the public with their talking points in the days after the attacks.
By its own count, the select committee interviewed at least 107 witnesses, including 81 who committee staff members said had not previously been interviewed by Congress. The committee also said it had reviewed 75,000 pages of documents.
In a statement accompanying the release of the report, Mr. Gowdy praised the Americans who died as “heroes” and he defended his own handling of the investigation.
“When the Select Committee was formed, I promised to conduct this investigation in a manner worthy of the American people’s respect, and worthy of the memory of those who died,” Mr. Gowdy said. “That is exactly what my colleagues and I have done.”
But in a flash of the combative posture that has drawn criticism, he also urged citizens to form their own conclusions, saying: “You can read this report in less time than our fellow citizens were taking fire and fighting for their lives on the rooftops and in the streets of Benghazi.”
On Monday, Mr. Gowdy issued yet another statement accusing the administration of obstructing the investigation.
“For nearly a year and a half, the State Department has withheld documents and information about Benghazi and Libya from the American people’s elected representatives in Congress,” Mr. Gowdy said. “Whatever the administration is hiding, its justifications for doing so are imaginary and appear to be invented for the sake of convenience. That’s not how complying with a congressional subpoena works, and it’s well past time the department stops stonewalling.”
Mr. Gowdy said some of the documents were first requested in November 2014.
Among the committee’s most substantive recommendations were a change in the security standards for temporary diplomatic outposts.
“The State Department should comply with the requirements of the Overseas Security Protection Board and the standards provided for in the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act for all premises/facilities occupied for more than 30 days, whether official or unofficial,” the committee wrote, adding: “The State Department should identify a specific funding source for immediate security upgrades for posts in high threat areas.”