House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, in an interview with Fox News, suggested the Obama administration politicized the intelligence in the immediate aftermath of the deadly consulate attack in Libya to fit a convenient story line, that it was spontaneous violence and not pre-meditated terrorism.
Rep. Rogers, R-Mich., specifically faulted the administration for suggesting the attack was an escalation of Muslim protests against an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S. and then doubling down on that theory.
“I argue the administration made some serious mistakes when they highlighted the video, escalated its credibility to the presidential level and then took it on TV in Pakistan with U.S. taxpayers dollars,” Rogers said, referring to an American government ad that aired in Pakistan condemning the video and the violence.
“I think those are all serious mistakes that we're paying the price for," Rogers told Fox News. He suggested the problem stemmed from the Obama administration seeing the intelligence as "what they wanted it to be -- not what it was."
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack, which authorities now suspect was carried out by extremists with ties to Al Qaeda.
Rogers and other Republican lawmakers have expressed specific criticism of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for her statements on several Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, five days after the Libya attack, when she said portrayed the violence as a spontaneous demonstration that spun out of control.
For three weeks, the administration has gradually walked that position back, and officials now say what happened in Benghazi was a coordinated terrorist attack. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a rare statement explaining that administration officials were given the best assessment based on the available intelligence. Even so, at least one Republican lawmaker has called on Rice to resign.
Rogers, who told Fox News a day after the attack that evidence pointed to a pre-meditated act of terrorist, said the intelligence director's statement appeared to be an effort to obscure the facts.
“Part of problem is this circling of the wagons," Rogers said, calling it "concerning."
"Again Americans need to understand the truth," he said. "And the facts are what the facts are -- and the intelligence is what the intelligence is -- and we've got to avoid this notion of any political convenience, of any political interpretation, or we will make serious mistakes.”
Fox News asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to identify the exact date when the intelligence showed the strike was terrorism and not a protest spun out of control. Knowing that date could indicate whether Rice’s comments were in line with the intelligence community’s overall assessment of the attack or contradicting it. A spokesman would not comment on the record about that matter.
Fox News also asked an administration official why the administration chose Ambassador Rice to go before TV cameras to discuss the sensitive intelligence details, instead of officials like Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon.
“We lost an ambassador in the attacks," the administration official told Fox News, asking to remain anonymous. "It made (sense) to put out a senior diplomat to speak to that tragedy.”
On Monday, the State Department defended Rice and rejected calls by House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King for her to resign.
Rogers said his worries go beyond the politics.
“It's clear to me that (Obama administration officials) try to find the most convenient parts to what their narrative was, and that's always a dangerous thing," he said. Citing the aftermath of the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, and the “lack of response” to the USS Cole attack in 2000, Rogers suggested that failing to respond honestly and forcefully in this attack will embolden America’s enemies.
“This was a successful attack (in) Al Qaeda's view," he said. "We need to treat it exactly the same, and we need to make sure that they don't have the ability to do this again."
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.