Nine years ago, terrorists attacked U.S. diplomats and contractors in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans died, and Republicans spent years investigating why. Those investigations found no wrongdoing by President Barack Obama or then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but they succeeded in painting Clinton as soft on terrorism, thereby damaging her 2016 presidential campaign. Now the same Republicans who decried Benghazi are downplaying President Donald Trump’s culpability—and their own—in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Republican frenzy over Benghazi spanned two presidential elections. In October 2012, Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, opened hearings on the Obama administration’s “security failures.” In a letter issued two weeks before that year’s presidential election, Issa and a fellow Republican lawmaker accused the administration of “endangering American lives” by ignoring the “escalating violence” that had preceded the attack. The letter also criticized Obama’s team for blaming the attack, erroneously, on unrelated protests over an anti-Muslim video.
After the election, Republicans launched more investigations. They created a House committee on Benghazi, which—as Issa and others would later admit—aimed to tarnish Clinton and cripple her candidacy. In hours of public interrogation and in the committee’s final report, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said Clinton had neglected warning signs before the attack and had played up the protests to avoid acknowledging the terrorism. At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Sen. Marco Rubio alleged that Clinton had “turned her back on the fallen heroes in Benghazi.” Sen. Ted Cruz, taking Clinton’s words out of context, accused her of shrugging off “the death of Americans at Benghazi.”
Five years later, at least five people are dead after last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. That’s more than the number of Americans killed in Benghazi. But this attack wasn’t inspired by radical Islamists. It was inspired by Republicans. For weeks leading up to the storming of the Capitol, Cruz told his followers that Democrats were trying to “steal the election.” Issa pledged to challenge the “amazing discrepancies” in state ballots counts, and Jordan constantly promoted allegations of fraud. The night before the attack, Fox News host Lou Dobbs asked Jordan, “Are you absolutely convinced … that there was fraud and an effort to steal this election on the part of the radical Dems?” The congressman replied, “Certainly fraud. Over 200 affidavits and declarations.”
Even after the Jan. 6 assault, these lawmakers continued to spread the propaganda that had provoked it. Rubio said state officials had “mutilated election integrity laws to help the Democrats.” Cruz noted that millions of Americans “believe the election was rigged,” and he scoffed that Democrats who “dismiss those claims” did so because “they like the outcome.” When an interviewer pointed out that other lawmakers had found no evidence of significant fraud, Cruz retorted, “Voter fraud has been a persistent problem in our elections. We have seen it over and over again.” And when colleagues challenged Jordan to concede that “the election was not rigged or stolen,” he ducked, saying only that the results had been officially certified.
During the Benghazi hearings, Republicans lambasted Clinton for suggesting, even tangentially, that understandable grievances might have played a role in the Libyan attack. Now those Republicans are suggesting that legitimate grievances were behind the attack on Congress. Issa says the Americans who assembled to march on the Capitol were just “people who passionately believe that there was an injustice” in the election. Rubio says “99 percent of the people who came here [to Washington] had nothing to do with that mob, nothing.” The senator blames media bias for causing a “crisis of confidence” in elections, which in turn helped “create an environment that lead[s] to this,” meaning the attack. Such “blatant bias” from the media, according to Rubio, is “one of the reasons why so many Americans have sought political shelter in divisive political movements.”
The same Republicans who blamed Islamic clerics for inspiring Islamic terrorism refuse to hold Trump responsible for inspiring the attack on the Capitol. Cruz says proposals to impeach the president or remove him through the 25th Amendment are just “vindictiveness” and “partisan spite” from people who “hate Donald Trump.” Jordan says impeachment would be a slap at the “75 million Americans who supported the president.” Issa brushes off Trump’s incendiary rhetoric as a “misstep,” and he argues that impeachment would be “kicking him when he’s down.” When an interviewer asked Issa whether Trump bore any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol, the congressman pleaded, “I don’t make it my practice to judge anything other than the outcome.”
Meanwhile, Jordan—who hounded Obama administration officials mercilessly for revising their story about Benghazi (initially they thought protests had driven the attack on the consulate; later they retracted that theory)—is now trying to whitewash his own record. In October, he tweeted, “Democrats are trying to steal the election.” A day before the attack, he blamed Trump’s loss on “fraud,” and he warned that “60 million Americans think the election was stolen.” But at a House hearing on Tuesday, the congressman piously insisted, “I’ve never said that this election was stolen.”
The response of these Trump apologists to last week’s insurrection makes a mockery of their hysteria over Benghazi. They’re doing exactly what they previously denounced: changing their story, rationalizing the motives behind the attack, and excusing the demagogue who inspired it. After four years of inquisitions into the deaths of four Americans in Libya, they’re accusing Democrats, in Issa’s words, of “overplaying a lot of things, including the death of these people on Capitol Hill.” Republicans stand firmly against terrorism, it seems, until the terrorists are Republicans.