WASHINGTON – House Republicans pushed ahead Monday with their investigation of the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year as President Barack Obama asserted that GOP charges of a cover-up are baseless.
The latest Republican focus is the independent review that criticized the State Department for inadequate security at the installation before the twin nighttime attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the two authors of the investigation – veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – to meet privately with committee staff to answer questions about their review. Democrats countered that if Congress wants to talk to them, Issa should hold a full open hearing.
Republicans insist that the Obama administration misled Congress and the American people in the immediate aftermath of the attack, trying to play down an act of terrorism that would reflect poorly on Obama weeks before the 2012 presidential election.
Emails disclosed Friday showed that State Department and other senior administration officials pushed for references to prior warnings and al-Qaida to be deleted from the talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attack. At a White House news conference, Obama dismissed the GOP focus on the talking points as a politically driven “sideshow,” pointing out that he said “act of terror” on Sept. 12 and the talking points assessment was similar to the daily presidential briefing he had received.
He also noted that Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress that Benghazi was a terrorist attack with potential links to al-Qaida three days after Rice’s appearance on five Sunday talk shows.
While Obama did refer to Benghazi as an act of terror, the president also cited protests over an anti-Islamic video in several interviews days after the attack, as did Rice on several Sunday news shows. He said Monday that “nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.”