WASHINGTON — Steady drips of information about a horrific night in Libya are fueling Republican arguments and ads designed to fire up the conservative base and undercut the Democrats' early favorite for president in 2016.
Democratic and Republican strategists sharply disagree on the issue's power to influence elections next year and beyond. But after eight months of trying, Democrats are still struggling to move past last September's terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Democrats insist that an independent inquiry, the dismissal of several State Department officials, and nine congressional hearings leave little new to say on the matter. But Friday turned up the sort of nuggets that feed conservative activists' belief that a major scandal may still be at hand.
Newly revealed communications show that senior State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used a few days after the Benghazi attacks. These senior officials expressed concerns that Congress might criticize the Obama administration for ignoring warnings of a growing threat in Libya.
The White House has insisted that it made only stylistic changes to the intelligence agency talking points, in which Rice suggested that spontaneous protests over an anti-Islamic video set off the deadly attack. The new details suggest a greater degree of political sensitivity and involvement by the White House and State Department.
Rice and others eventually acknowledged that the Benghazi assault on Sept. 11, 2012, was a premeditated terrorist attack. Republicans say her Sept. 16 televised remarks were just the start of administration efforts to mislead Americans about what happened in Libya.
The Benghazi violence was heavily politicized from the start, occurring less than two months before President Barack Obama's re-election. Moreover, the secretary of state at the time was Hillary Rodham Clinton. The former senator and first lady infuriates many conservatives and ranks high in speculation about the Democrats' 2016 presidential nominee.
Friday brought another round of conservative broadsides against Clinton, Obama and the administration's handling of the Benghazi matter. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a possible Republican presidential contender, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Times restating his view that Obama should have fired Clinton.
Campaigning later in Iowa, Paul said he thinks the Benghazi affair "precludes Hillary Clinton from ever holding office."
The conservative group American Crossroads released a 90-second video asking if Clinton was "part of a cover-up." The video, like emails and letters from several other groups, asked for political donations.
The Benghazi tragedy hands Republicans a host of political opportunities, although none without complications. It may be difficult for average voters to sift through the chronology, assess blame, or even follow the logic of GOP arguments.