Michael Barone
"What difference, at this point, does it make?"

That was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's angry response to a question about the State Department's account of the attack on the Benghazi consulate where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered on Sept. 11, 2012.

Her response was cheered by leftist commentators on MSNBC. Righteous indignation is so attractive.

But of course it makes a difference. Hillary Clinton is leading in polls for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and general election. It's always legitimate to examine the performance of a front-runner for the presidency. And of the president himself.

You can find such an examination in the Interim Progress Report that five House Republican committee chairmen released last Wednesday.

Democrats complain that this is a partisan effort. Sure, but Democrats are free to present their own view of the facts. My sense is that they would rather squelch critical examination of Benghazi and the Obama administration's response, as they did with the help of most of the press during the 2012 presidential campaign.

The interim report sets out copious evidence of the rash of security threats in Libya during 2012. There were more than 200 "security incidents" between June 2011 and July 2012 in Libya, 50 of them in Benghazi, it reports.

Britain and international agencies withdrew personnel from Benghazi. The United States reduced security forces despite a plea for increases from then-Ambassador Gene Cretz in March 2012.

"In a cable signed by Secretary Clinton in April 2012," the Interim Report reads, "the State Department settled on a plan to scale back security assets in the U.S. Mission in Libya, including Benghazi."

Later requests from Stevens after he replaced Cretz in May were also denied.

That contradicts Clinton's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013. She said the cable traffic never made its way to her.

If so, why was her name appended to a response? Maybe there's an explanation in the internal processes of the State Department. And, it should be said, high officials often make decisions that with hindsight seem obvious mistakes. But she has given us just an exclamation, not an explanation.

And, as the Interim Report goes on to explain, the accounts given by the Obama administration at the time were misleading -- deliberately so.

It noted that State immediately reported the attack to the White House Situation Room and two hours later noted an al-Qaida affiliate's claim of responsibility. There was no mention of a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM