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Benghazi's final bell

The 800-page report released Tuesday by the House Select Committee on Benghazi is a remarkable document in at least one sense — rarely have Congressional investigators worked so long and so hard to justify their efforts with so little success. The most salient conclusion of the report, that the U.S. failed to adequately protect Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others who were killed in a terrorist attack four years ago, was known about a half-dozen investigations, $7 million in wasted tax dollars and at least three years ago.

Here's what most Americans can take away from this debacle: The attacks were preventable; the diplomatic mission was inadequately protected; there were leadership failures in the State Department and the intelligence community; the Obama administration was slow to share information, some relevant, some less so, with Congressional investigators; and the attack was initially (and wrongly) described as stemming from a protest. But, of course, most all of that was known in December 2012 when an Accountability Review Board released its investigation of the incident.

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What has been discovered since then — the material Rep. Trey Gowdy, the select committee's chair and others will be crowing about for weeks — is mostly built on an interpretation of evidence. As fellow Republicans, including most famously Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have already admitted, this has been largely an exercise in pinning the blame for these tragic deaths on the woman who is now the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Here are just a few of the "shocking" details Mr. Gowdy released this week: the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff missed a White House meeting because of a dinner party for foreign dignitaries; Susan Rice's appearances on Sunday TV talk shows (in which she wrongly suggested the attack was part of a Muslim protest of an inflammatory video) weren't prepped by the FBI, CIA or Department of Defense; and the administration's policy of "no boots on the ground" in Libya influenced its State Department security arrangements.

What the report lacks in insight, it certainly makes up for in quantity. Even the press release announcing the report's release rambles on for six pages with a smattering of politically-charged quotes from committee members: "Politics were put ahead of the lives of Americans, and while the administration had made excuses and blamed the challenges posed by time and distance, the truth is they did not try," according to Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas.

Others might look at those same facts and draw a different conclusion — one that isn't so nefarious and recognizes, as people like Ambassador Thomas Pickering (George H.W. Bush's U.N. ambassador) have observed, that the blame for the attack rests "solely and completely" with the terrorists. Or as Maryland's own Rep. Elijah Cummings, the leading Democrat on the committee, noted months ago: "The new information we have obtained confirms and corroborates the core facts we already knew from the eight previous investigations. They provide more detail, but they do not change the basic conclusions."

The deaths in Benghazi were tragic. But for too long, Americans have been forced to endure a witch hunt by Mr. Gowdy and his allies, an "investigation" that stands in sharp contrast to the more reasonable, more bipartisan inquiries conducted earlier by oversight committees in both the House and Senate that were genuinely aimed at correcting past mistakes. The only reason to cheer the release of the "final" report is that it simply draws this unseemly process of attempting to pin the blame for a terrorist attack on Hillary Clinton to an overdue close.

As Congressman McCarthy observed on Fox News last fall when he was seeking to become the next House speaker, the purpose of the Benghazi committee was to bring down Ms. Clinton's poll numbers. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?"

All in all, it's been a despicable attempt to take advantage of four dead Americans for partisan gain, but such crass opportunism may yet backfire on Republicans. As a CNN poll found after Ms. Clinton testified before the select committee last fall, nearly three-quarters of Americans perceive the committee's work as a political exercise. That doesn't make what happened in Benghazi acceptable or even less tragic, it simply means two wrongs (an overseas terrorist attack followed by an organized political persecution back home) don't make a right.

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