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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The Truth About Benghazi

Aired August 6, 2013 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight: U.S. embassies and consulates around the world close.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe that this threat is significant and we are taking it seriously.

BURNETT: U.S. officials afraid of another Benghazi, where four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered. Nearly a year later, no one wants to repeat the same fatal mistakes.

CHERYL BENNETT, MOTHER OF TYRONE WOODS: My heart is broken, because he perished the way he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is irrefutable that it was a terrorist attack.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night that decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

BURNETT: Was there a cover-up? And where are the killers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're either somewhere planning their next attack or they're somewhere hiding out.

BURNETT: Will there be justice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm afraid that if these people are still in charge, making these decisions, then more of our people are going to get murdered.

BURNETT: Tonight, from Libya to Washington, D.C., "THE Truth About Benghazi."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

Tonight, an "OUTFRONT" special investigation, "The Truth About Benghazi."

For nearly a year, America has been searching for answers about the deadly attacks that took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, information officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

That search for answers could not be any more relevant than tonight, as U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are closed or on high alert. Preventing another attack like Benghazi means getting to the truth of what really happened there.

Tonight, we go with Arwa Damon back to Benghazi where it all began to investigate why the attacks happened and what's being done to find the killers.

Plus, John King gets to the bottom of the now infamous talking points and the evolving story coming out of Washington in the days and weeks after the attacks. Did presidential politics lead to a cover- up? And what do the families of the four lost Americans want most? You will hear from them directly.

But, first, we go back to the hours before the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): September 11, in America, a day of solemn remembrance, in 2012, a day of violence in the Middle East.

Demonstrators storm the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, angry over a low- rent film made in the U.S. that mocks the Prophet Mohammed. In neighboring Libya, Ambassador Christopher Stevens is in Benghazi, a city known for upheaval. Stevens knew Benghazi well. During the civil war that ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi, he lived there.

JAN STEVENS, FATHER OF CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: He was in at the beginning, when Secretary Clinton sent him over there to talk to the rebels and find out who are these people, what are they up to, should we be supporting them?

BURNETT: Stevens' parents were proud that he helped the rebel- led coalition set up a new government.

STEVENS: We were concerned about him and concerned about the work and appreciative of it.

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA: My name is Chris Stevens and I'm the new U.S. ambassador to Libya.

BURNETT: In May 2012, Stevens was promoted to ambassador. His job? To bring stability to a hot zone.

GEOFF PORTER, PRESIDENT, NORTH AFRICA RISK CONSULTING: Gadhafi's weapons stockpiles had been raided and the weapons were just everywhere. So one of the things that the U.S. was interested in doing, and in particular the CIA, was collecting weapons.

BURNETT: That mission brought Stevens to Benghazi on September 11, when he opened a cultural center and met with officials. TIM CLEMENTE, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT: The ambassador, Stevens, had met with a Turkish official in the presidential mission compound, the consulate there in Benghazi, and everything was quiet for them.

BURNETT: That all changed when darkness fell. At 9:42 p.m., gunfire is heard outside the Benghazi consulate, then a loud explosion. Within minutes, dozens of armed militia charge the main gate, setting fire to the barracks, headed straight for the ambassador's residence.

By 10:00 p.m., Ambassador Stevens, information officer Sean Smith, and a security agent run to a safe room.

CLEMENTE: Three men with guns against 120 with RPGs, machine guns, grenades, they would have been no match.

BURNETT: An alert is sent to the CIA security team at an annex about a mile away. That alert also goes to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

Using a cell phone, Chris Stevens calls deputy mission chief Gregory Hicks at the embassy.

GREGORY HICKS, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, LIBYA: And he said, Greg, we're under attack.

BURNETT: A few months before the attack, Stevens briefly cut back on his morning runs after extremists posted his jogging routine online.

MARY COMMANDAY, MOTHER OF STEVENS: I do know from his diary that they found he recognized that there was danger lurking in these places.

BURNETT: Jeff Porter briefed Stevens on the security risks.

PORTER: The best way to characterize the security environment in Benghazi on September 10, on September 11 was that it was unpredictable. There was no law and order. And so while it was probably unlikely that something bad was going to happen, were something bad to happen, it was likely to be catastrophic.

BURNETT: Stevens made repeated requests for more security. Guard booths and gates were added to the Benghazi compound as part of $100,000 in upgrades. But they still didn't have enough people.

(on camera): Why was manpower so lacking in Benghazi?

PORTER: What we're essentially talking about is a CIA mission in Benghazi whose purpose was to collect information, collect weapons potentially, and they may have deliberately wanted to keep a low security profile.

BURNETT (voice-over): CNN's Drew Griffin reports CIA agents have taken multiple polygraph tests to prevent them from talking about the CIA mission in Benghazi. But we do know that, in July, diplomatic security agent Eric Nordstrom asked to have a 16-person special support team stay on as extra security until mid-September. That request went unanswered.

Around 10:30 p.m., a fortified door with heavy metal bars keeps the attackers from breaking into the safe room, where Smith and Stevens are. Minutes later, the attackers set fire to the villa with diesel fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And literally within minutes, the smoke overwhelmed Stevens and Smith in the safe area.

BURNETT: About the same time, six American security agents leave the CIA annex. Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods is with them. After a battle, Woods and friendly Libyan fighters regain control of the consulate and start searching for Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They found Sean's body and pulled it out, but he was no longer responsive. They did not find the ambassador.

BURNETT: Back in Washington, word spreads fast about the attack. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey meet with President Obama.

(on camera): So, what happened at the meeting?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, obviously, this is a very unusual event, and it has profound significance for the president. And, by this time, of course, everyone's thinking it is 9/11.

BURNETT: 12:07 a.m. Benghazi time, 6:07 p.m. in Washington, the State Department sends an e-mail to the White House, the Pentagon and the FBI. It says the Islamic military group Ansar al-Sharia has claimed credit.

CLARK: If there was any thought that this might have been a spontaneous uprising, well, this clearly put that to rest.

BURNETT: Three days before September 11, a local Libyan militia told the U.S. the security situation in Benghazi was quickly deteriorating, warning the Americans to decrease their presence.

PORTER: There may have been a lack of situational awareness. They may have not been able to identify which of the dozens of violent armed groups in Benghazi pose a threat to the United States.

BURNETT (on camera): We have breaking news. An American, we can confirm now, has been killed in Libya tonight.

(voice-over): At about 1:00 a.m., an eyewitness captures a man being pulled from the smoke-filled consulate on video. This is the last image of Chris Stevens alive. At almost the same time, former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty arrives in Benghazi with a rescue team from Tripoli.

(on camera): He chose to run in and chose to defend, even though it wasn't his job. He ran in.

KATE QUIGLEY, SISTER OF GLEN DOHERTY: That's how Glen has lived his whole live. Anything you need at any time, he's there for you.

BURNETT (voice-over): By 4:00 a.m., Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods team up at the CIA annex. They're protecting at least 30 Americans against overwhelming odds.

CLEMENTE: Literally, the 30 or so individuals that were there could have all been killed or captured.

BURNETT: And then the final blow. The full-on assault comes between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. Libya time.

CLEMENTE: And there were three mortars that were dropped that hit the roof of the building. It was overwhelming injuries.

Glen Doherty and Tyrone woods are killed.

QUIGLEY: I got a phone call, and from there, I had to then decide how to tell everyone.

BURNETT (on camera): And how did you do it?

QUIGLEY: There's no way to sugarcoat it. You just do it. You know, getting a phone call that kind of alters your life forever is -- it's horrible.

BURNETT (voice-over): When the attacks on the consulate and CIA annex finally end, the assault has lasted nearly eight hours.

BENNETT: Ty perished doing what he loved to do and doing it well. My son did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

BURNETT: Thirty Americans were saved. But four Americans are dead.

BENNETT: My heart is broken, because he perished the way he did, but at the same time, I'm proud of what he did.

(on camera): The next day, the president of the United States makes a vow.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act, and make no mistake, justice will be done.

BURNETT (voice-over): Ambassador Chris Stevens called for help within minutes after the attack. So why didn't the military get there in time?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I think there are other assets and other things that could have been put into motion.

(END VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: It was September 11, 2012. America was under attack, four Americans dead, the first ambassador killed in more than three decades, an information officer and two SEALs murdered. Three days after the attacks on the consulate, Arwa Damon walked through the burned-out remains of the compound. She was one of the first journalists to arrive in Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We first came here three days after the attack. This was the ambassador's bedroom, part of a suite that made up the safe room, which was fortified with heavily metal bars on the windows and door.

And it was here, between the bed and the chair, that we found his diary. As we walked freely through the compound, it was strangely insecure, personal and official documents strewn about. We met the young man who shot video of Ambassador Stevens, unconscious, close to death, being carried out.

FAHED AL-BAKUSH, EYEWITNESS (through translator): I was filming video and I thought it was an American. I thought it was a driver or a security guy.

DAMON: We also spoke to the doctor who tried to save Stevens' life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I tried to resuscitate, but after 45 minutes, no sign of life.

DAMON: One eyewitness, who arrived at the compound as the firefight was subsiding, told us that he had seen bearded men with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. Detained briefly by the gunmen, he said they had been talking about attacking a second target, which turned out to be the American CIA annex about a mile away.

We also tracked down several of the Libyan guards who had been at the compound that night. They told us it was a quick and intense assault, well-organized and involving more than 50 people, some wearing Afghan-style turbans. One guard told us they must have received training.

To understand the attack, you have to understand the layout of the consulate.

(on camera): That is the compound's outer and only perimeter. There's a little bit of concertina wire on top of it. When the assault happened from multiple directions, that is one of the gates that the attackers very easily broke through, and as is clear, there was nothing stopping them from reaching the buildings, except for this sandbagged fighting position.

(voice-over): CNN was on the ground in Benghazi less than 72 hours after the attack. But it would be nearly a month before an FBI team visited the crime scenes.

CLEMENTE: Who knows how many untold countless individuals had trampled that crime scene after the fact? So any physical evidence, boot prints, shoe prints, fingerprints, you name it, all that trace evidence that's extremely valuable is now either contaminated completely or not even there anymore.

DAMON: Nine months later, in the ops room, the movement white board bears violent witness to that night. Empty ammunition boxes litter the floor. There remains some traces of the FBI's brief visit. As they sifted through the wreckage, the U.S. attorney general promised to solve this matter, to hold people accountable.

But, by then, it seems some of the attackers were far away. The crime scene had been tainted. In a city where the flag of jihad was flying and where the Libyan government had little power, finding those accountable would not be easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: There is no doubt America was caught off guard when the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya was attacked. But could the attack have been prevented? And why didn't our military respond in time?

John King reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): September 11, 2012, 8:46 a.m., a White House moment of silence that is now part of a sad national ritual, 9:49 a.m., the Pentagon memorial, and then at 5:00 p.m., a new 9/11. President Obama is told the American mission in Benghazi is under attack, the U.S. ambassador missing.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Benghazi was a play, a tragedy in three acts. And an awful lot of the political energy has been placed on act two, what happened that night.

KING: At 6:00 p.m., now midnight in Benghazi, a series of urgent Pentagon meetings.

Two military units based in Spain, one on a training mission in Croatia, and another based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were told to get ready, quick orders, but no quick options.

The Croatia team reached the staging base in Sicily late Wednesday, 22 hours after the Benghazi attack. The North Carolina- based team reached that same base 90 minutes later. The fastest time Libyan soil? One of the Spain-based teams made it to Tripoli at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, 23 hours after the Benghazi siege began, and 22 hours after the president was told. Too late. Way too late.

But then, the siege was over, the U.S. mission in ruins, the nearby CIA annex heavily damaged and the bodies of four Americans on a transport plane to Germany. LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The United States military, as I have said, is not and frankly should not be a 911 service.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: There's some places on the planet where we have some gaps, and I think North Africa is probably one of them.

KING: To Congressman Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, case closed.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: The bottom line is there was not a force available that could get there in time. And that's been clearly and unequivocally established and answered over and over again.

KING: Republican Jason Chaffetz begs to differ.

CHAFFETZ: They're in Northern Libya, right there on the coast. That we couldn't get U.S. military there for 24 hours, that's embarrassing if it's true. But I really question whether or not that's the actual truth.

KING (on camera): So essentially you're saying General Dempsey, the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the United States of America, isn't telling the truth?

CHAFFETZ: I think there are other assets and other things that could have been put into motion. That cavalry never comes over the hill to help. That's just stunning to me.

KING (voice-over): There was one closer option. There were special ops personnel in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, who wanted to rush to Benghazi, but were ordered not to. The Pentagon initially denied a stand-down order was given. That's technically correct, but it now concedes they were ordered not to go to Benghazi, but to instead help out in Tripoli.

DEMPSEY: If they had gone, they would have simply passed each other in the air.

HAYDEN: I'm more interested in act one.

KING: Michael Hayden is the former CIA director.

HAYDEN: Act one is, what were the intelligence estimates? What kind of warnings were given? What was the plan? Why do we have so few options in act two?

KING: Act one is numbing, warning after warning that Benghazi was a disaster waiting to happen.

HAYDEN: What they had decided to do with the security posture was inconsistent with the threat assessment that was readily available.

KING (on camera): Indefensible?

HAYDEN: Look, I have been in those chairs. I'm not going to say it that way. But it's clear, John, it was inadequate.

KING (voice-over): The evidence was overwhelming, attacks that convinced the British, the Red Cross and the United Nations to leave Benghazi, two prior attacks on the U.S. mission, an IED thrown over the fence by former security guards in April and another IED in June that blew a huge hole in a compound gate, and detailed warnings, CNN is told, in 4,000 classified cables, including updates on new al Qaeda training camps near Benghazi.

CHAFFETZ: How come that didn't rise to the level where somebody said we just can't operate in this environment? It was a death trap.

KING: The official administration review found the security arrangements grossly inadequate and spread the blame across the State Department bureaucracy.

CLINTON: Senator, I want to make clear that no one in the State Department, the intelligence community, any other agency ever recommended that we close Benghazi.

KING: But maybe they should have.

(on camera): It's the only Western flag flying in Benghazi. Should it have been?

HAYDEN: I don't think so. There was plenty of warning. It's kind of what we call strategic warning. You knew things bad could happen. Tactical warning, it's going to happen tonight at 7:00? Not so much.

If you were waiting for tactical warning sitting out there in the consulate in Benghazi, you weren't waiting for intelligence, John. You were waiting to die.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: So John, the military says, right, they couldn't have gotten to Benghazi in time, but the United States has the greatest military in the world. So, that seems shocking.

KING: It does seem shocking -- 24 hours for the first boots on the ground, for the fire department to first make it to Libya, and then only to Tripoli? I think a lot of Americans are stunned by that.

Part of this is a long-term problem. Libya in Northern Africa, the Africa Command, which was created for these kind of crises, is still based in Germany, because the Pentagon hasn't come up with the money and made the political decision about where to locate the base in Africa, so part of this is a long-term problem.

Then you get to Benghazi specifically. And, Erin, I think this is the greatest crime, if you will, of Benghazi. They had weeks and weeks and months and months of warnings. BURNETT: Right.

KING: Now, the Pentagon says it was never asked, but the fact that the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon didn't get together and say, at a minimum, we need to have Marines floating in off Libya, I think that is the greatest crime. They knew there was a disaster brewing. Did they know when? No, but they had no fire department anywhere close.

BURNETT: All right, John, well, thank you very much.

And, of course, greater than the crime may be the cover-up.

And, up next, was it a cover-up by the Obama administration? And will anyone ever be brought to justice?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUIGLEY: It might not be tomorrow. It might not be this year, but I do think at some point in time, the individuals responsible are going to be found and there will be justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: In many ways, the political firestorm that followed the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi became bigger than the attack itself.

Here again is John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It was the morning after in the Rose Garden.

OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.

KING: Two days later, the solemn homecoming for the four Americans killed in Benghazi.

By then, top State Department officials believed the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia was involved and Americans evacuated to Germany were telling the FBI there was no protest outside the Benghazi mission and that there was precision mortar fire when the nearby CIA annex came under attack.

Yet, five days after the attack, this official take on why Benghazi happened.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Our current best assessment based on the information we have at present is that in fact what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

KING (voice-over): Former CIA director Michael Hayden watched from home that Sunday. What Ambassador Rice kept saying just didn't add up.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The attack was complex. It was synchronized. Consisted of individual and crew-served (ph) weapons. Whoa. That doesn't sound like a mob at all.

KING: Nearly a year later, the Obama administration's response remains a Benghazi flashpoint.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead.

KING: Republicans say telling the truth about Benghazi might have undermined a key part of the president's case for re-election.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM: The American people are owed an apology for the misinformation that went on for weeks.

KING: The White House, though, chafes at any suggestion of deliberate misinformation or of a cover-up.

OBAMA: There's no "there" there. And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly has a lot to do with political motivations.

KING: There is no disputing this: the explanations have, at times, been inconsistent, conflicting and inaccurate.

OBAMA: What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video was used as an excuse by extremists.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I heard Hillary Clinton say that it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?

OBAMA: We're still doing an investigation. There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action.

KING: Exhibit A in this debate is these Benghazi talking points used by Ambassador Rice when she made the Sunday show rounds.

OBAMA: The whole issue of this -- of talking points, frankly, throughout this process, has been a sideshow.

KING: Perhaps. But the administration at least shares blame for what the president calls a political circus.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the White House and State Department made clear, that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two -- these two institutions were changing the word "consulate" to "diplomatic facility," because consulate was inaccurate. That's just not true.

KING: We now know the National Security Council staff was behind several edits, and the State Department vigorously pushed others. The first draft referenced Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda. The second noted repeated CIA warnings about al Qaeda's presence in Benghazi.

But administration e-mails show State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objected to naming terror groups. She also pushed to delete reference to those threat warnings. Even after changes, Nuland wrote one draft failed "to resolve all of my issues or those of my building leadership."

For months, Nuland refused to explain who she meant by building relationship.

HAYDEN: Not being transparent feeds people's worst fears and worst suspicions.

KING: In July, she finally told the Senate she was referring to Jake Sullivan, the department's deputy chief of staff and key member of Secretary Clinton's inner circle.

NULAND: And I did not consult with anybody else.

KING: Sullivan is among more than half dozen top Clinton aides Issa's committee wants to question.

ISSA: That misinformation, at a minimum, shows a dysfunctional government. Possibly shows an intent to deceive.

KING: The official administration investigation, called an accountability review board, was highly critical of the entire state bureaucracy but found no negligence.

ISSA: I've called at times the ARB a whitewash, and it's offended a lot of people.

KING: ARB was led by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering. He twice canceled scheduled interviews with CNN and now says his attorney advised him not to speak with us. He has in the past defended the integrity of the review.

(on camera): So Republicans say, "Aha, cover-up."

HAYDEN: Cover-up's a loaded word. I think it's a question of clarity. We just kind of mixed it all together as a stew and kind of rolled Benghazi into the other events, which were video related.

KING: Who is ultimately accountable?

HAYDEN: Look, this is team ball. There are a lot of people who now look back and say, "I could have done that. I should have done that. If I would have done that, maybe I could have prevented it."

BURNETT: So John, we've seen some of the e-mails but not all of them. Do you think we're ever going to really know who made the decisions to make changes in this administration?

KING: The committee is going to keep pushing, the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and they want to go all the way up to Hillary Clinton's inner circle. They want to see, were they involved in the conversation to back dropping the terrorist organization names, specifically dropping the fact that the CIA had repeatedly warned the State Department, "You people are in trouble."

Why was that done? Was it done to protect the investigation? Was it done just politically to protect the department or nefariously, Republicans think nefarious, some sort of a protect Clinton, protect the president. Democrats say, you know, that's how bureaucracy works. We're going to see how high they can get in either publicly or privately, getting more e-mails and questioning the Clinton inner circle.

But I will tell you, Erin, there are some Republicans who say enough. The bigger challenge is where was the military? You know, why were they left at risk, not so much the talking point debate, but this saga continues.

BURNETT: Right. And hopefully stopping this from happening again. But you say we may never know who was responsible in the White House for the decisions or any administration.

But Arwa, we may also never know who actually committed this horrible crime.

DAMON: That's right. We're not going to know, because you look at what the Americans and the Libyans are doing, and the investigation is basically going nowhere. It hasn't even really significantly gotten off the ground. No one has really been detained in connection for this. And even people who are out there, easy to find in Benghazi, no one has actually spoken to.

The situation in Benghazi, as it progresses, and has progressed since the attack, is one that is becoming a more difficult and more challenging landscape to navigate. You go there now, you will see pro-al-Qaeda graffiti spray painted on the wall. You didn't see this back in September.

BURNETT: Arwa, thank you very much. And Arwa, of course, was just there, and she was able to do what U.S. and government officials haven't been able to do: catch up with some of the people who might have been responsible for the murders.

DAMON (voice-over): Within hours of the attack, U.S. officials and some Libyans were blaming one group. Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist militia group based in Benghazi.

TIM CLEMENTE, COUNTER TERRORISM EXPERT: Those are obviously the ones that hated us. Those are al-Qaeda-allied, and they really dislike the west.

DAMON: The night of the attack U.S. officials claimed that Ansar al-Sharia took credit. But the organization itself quickly denied involvement.

Since September 11, there has been only one suspect publicly detained in connection to the attack. In October, a man from Tunisia named Ali Harzi was picked up in Turkey and questioned by the FBI. He was released in January after authorities determined there was a lack of evidence.

In May, the FBI released photos of three more men wanted for questioning. We took those pictures onto the street.

(on camera): Did you see this at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in Benghazi?

DAMON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DAMON: They didn't put it on TV or didn't put it on the walls or anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen this.

DAMON: No.

(voice-over): Rami el-Oubeidi was an intelligence official with the revolution-era Libyan National Transitional Council. And now independently tracks extremist groups.

RAMI EL-OUBEIDI, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL, LIBYAN NATIONAL TRANSITIONAL COUNCIL: The FBI unfortunately -- unfortunately released photos of very minor people who were not known in Benghazi, and the bulk of the people who are behind the U.S. consulate attack are in Syrian territory today.

DAMON: U.S. officials have identified Ahmed Abu Khattala as a person of interest in the attack. And CNN has learned the Justice Department has filed charges against him and several others. So far no arrests have been made.

But for a suspected terrorist, who may have been involved in the murder of four Americans, he's really not that difficult to find.

(on camera): We met with Ahmed Abu Khattala in public at the coffee shop of a well-known hotel here in Benghazi for around two hours. He seemed to be confident, his demeanor most certainly not that of a man who believed that he was going to be detained or targeted any time soon. And he agreed to let us film audio but not video of our conversation.

(voice-over): He doesn't deny that he was there the night of the attack. DAMON (through translator): That night, how did you get the news? When did you arrive and what did you see?

AHMED ABU KHATTALA, WANTED FOR QUESTIONING (through translator): Is this a journalistic interview or an interrogation?

DAMON (through translator): It's a journalistic interview.

KHATTALA (through translator): I didn't know where the place was. When I heard, we went to examine the situation. When we withdrew and there was shooting with medium guns, and there were RPGs in the air and people panicked, we tried to control traffic.

DAMON (through translator): Did anyone from the American or the Libyan government side try and get in touch with you?

KHATTALA (through translator): Never.

DAMON (through translator): Never?

KHATTALA (through translator): Never.

DAMON (through translator): And if they tried, are you ready to meet with them?

KHATTALA (through translator): Yes, no problem. But not as an interrogation. As a conversation like the one we are having right now.

DAMON (voice-over): But these conversations haven't happened. The chaos and insecurity in Benghazi right now makes it hard to bring anyone to justice for the September attack. And Rahmi el-Oubeidi says the Americans continue to fail to see the bigger picture.

EL-OUBEIDI: The attack was commanded and executed by al Qaeda, Islamic Madra, who today includes former members of the Libyan Islamic fighting group who have merged since with Algerian al Qaeda members. So we're dealing with a completely new beast today that has evolved in the last two years.

DAMON: So who is on their radar? And where does the investigation stand? We went to find the justice minister.

SALAH BASHIR MARGANI, MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LIBYA: I'm not allowed to give such information by law. An all that I can say is that it is being investigated.

DAMON: He warns against unilateral action by the U.S.

MARGANI: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the courts reveal in Benghazi, in the case where the crime was committed. And taking out people, that is something that may not be fair, because most people don't have access to lawyers.

DAMON: But with no one brought to justice, and nearly a year and an investigation that appears stalled, unilateral action may be the United States' only option.

BURNETT: Next, who will pay the political price?

PAT SMITH, SEAN SMITH'S MOTHER: It's Hillary's legacy over there. I had told her personally, nose to nose, "please, tell me what happened." She did not get back to me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Who will pay the political price for all of this? Again, here's John king.

KING (voice-over): She visited 112 countries as secretary of state, logging nearly a million miles, including this upbeat 2011 visit to Libya. Benghazi proved that optimism was misplaced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were misled...

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night that decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

KING: Republicans argue it makes a huge difference.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It was inexcusable and it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office.

KING (on camera): And you know what her allies and most Democrats would say. They'd say here's this guy that wants to be the Republican nominee in 2016. He's trying to discredit the strongest Democrat.

PAUL: You think politics could enter into what a politician is saying? My goodness.

KING (voice-over): Senator Rand Paul says the politics flow from alarming policy blunders.

CLINTON: I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention or above the assistant secretary level.

PAUL: That's precisely her culpability. When you lead the State Department, decisions in one of the most dangerous countries in the world should rise to your level. That's your job, is to make sure that those messages get to you.

KING: Some Republicans aren't waiting for the investigation to conclude. To them, it's clear Benghazi was a cover-up, orchestrated by the two Democrats the GOP most loves to hate. Oh, and please send money.

OBAMA: The fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly has a lot to do with political motivations. They've used it for fund raising. KING: Yes, they have. American Crossroads, among the conservative groups that see Benghazi as both a scandal and a fund- raising tool.

CLINTON: What difference at this point does it make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The difference is a cover-up and four American lives.

KING (on camera): But doesn't it give the other side new fodder to say the Republicans aren't interesting in the facts. They've already concluded this is a cover-up. They're trying to raise money off this?

ISSA: You've got a very valid point. I would concur. I would prefer that the fund-raising by outside organizations stay away from the hard work of Congress. But it isn't going to happen.

KING (voice-over): Pollster Kristin Soltis Anderson is saying that her fellow Republicans need to be careful.

KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: When you go to Republicans and you say this is a cover up, Republicans believe that. The challenge is that's not something that, outside of Republican circles, is as widely believed.

KING: That ad was cut in 2012 but never run. Leaking it now is a 2016 warning shot at Clinton.

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISOR: It may be the Republicans are trying to send her a message.

KING: Longtime Clinton ally Paul Begala.

BEGALA: She's never, ever been a person to back down to a bully. She's always the kind of person motivated by that to stand up and fight back.

BURNETT: Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glenn Dougherty rushed to rescue Americans in danger. Next, we honor the four Americans who lost their lives. What did they die for?

MARY COMMANDY, MOTHER OF CHRIS STEVENS: The more important thing to us is to make a positive thing about Chris's life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Four Americans were lost on September 11, 2012. But their memories live on for their families.

Christopher Stevens, age 52.

COMMANDY: When he was in high school, he played the saxophone. They were going to do "Music Man" so he decided to audition for it, and I remember, I was in the kitchen and he came home from a performance and he said to me, "Mom, I'll never be in the pit again." BURNETT (voice-over): Chris' parents remember when they first saw their son's talent for diplomacy, as a young Peace Corps volunteer.

JAN STEVENS, FATHER OF CHRIS STEVENS: I remember a peddler came up with a rusty dagger, you know, that he was purporting to be very valuable. He wanted to sell it to Chris. And Chris took the dagger and ran his finger down it and said, in Arabic, said, "This is worthless. It will cut nothing." And he said it in such a way that both the peddler and the waiter burst out in laughter.

BURNETT: Glenn Dougherty, age 42. His younger sister, Kate, says the top-flight skier and surfer was larger than life.

KATE QUIGLEY, GLENN DOUGHERTY'S SISTER: Glenn was a people person. He was always the life of the party, and always had a great story, a big smile, huge hug. And he was just so -- so fun all the time. And when you were with him, he made you be the best that you could be. And that's -- that's a great thing.

BURNETT: Sean Smith, age 34. Pat Smith says her son was a gamer.

SMITH: He was a nerd, and he grew up to be a big nerd. But one of those wonderful nerds, and I just loved the hell out of him.

BURNETT: She always encouraged Sean to explore the world.

SMITH: Taste it. Find out what it's all about. And that's what he did, and he reached for the stars.

BURNETT: Tyrone Woods, age 41. He lived to be a Navy SEAL.

(on camera): How much did he love it?

CHERYL BENNETT, MOTHER OF TYRONE WOODS: He loved it. He loved it.

BURNETT (voice-over): And his passion to be a SEAL started early.

BENNETT: This is a drawing that he did when he was, oh, about 12 years old, and it's a game. And it has helicopters and killer bees and alligators, obstacles to overcome, and you had to start down here, and the object of the game was to get home, which was up here. And overcome all these obstacles.

Friends and family have really been supportive.

BURNETT: And she's at peace, knowing Ty helped bring others home on September 11.

BURNETT: I said, "Secretary Clinton, you're a mother."

She said, "Yes." And I said, "My concern as a mother is that my son perished thinking that he had not completed or fulfilled his mission." And I said, "He would not want that."

And she said, "He completed his mission. He saved 30 people's lives who would not be here today."

And I thought, "OK. Mission completed."

BURNETT: Mission completed. These men gave their lives serving other Americans. And their deaths shouldn't be in vain. It's up to America's leaders to honor them by making sure the events of September 11, 2012, never happen again.

So far elected officials have focused more on finger pointing than their country's security. The administration put the president's re-election first. The Republican Party put political revenge first. In the end, the truth about Benghazi: politics trumped patriotism.

I'm Erin Burnett. Good night.