Published November 15, 2012
Republican lawmakers, after struggling for weeks to get answers on the Libya terror attack, ripped into the Obama administration Thursday -- with one congressman claiming officials "lied to the American people."
Tempers boiled over as the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing with several analysts, though none would be considered key figures in the administration's Benghazi attack response. A few officials with inside knowledge were briefing select lawmakers behind closed doors Thursday; and in a win for lawmakers, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify next month.
But the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing swiftly became a venue for lawmakers to voice their frustrations and lob accusations at the administration. Lawmakers sparred early and often, with Democrats accusing Republicans of turning a tragedy into a "political football" and Republicans accusing the administration of hiding the truth.
"This administration has lied to the American people about this tragedy," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said. "The arrogance and dishonesty in all of this is breathtaking. Let's not stonewall this issue and cover up mistakes, which seems to be what is going on today."
Lawmakers continue to express concerns on several fronts -- on whether warnings in the months preceding Sept. 11 were ignored, and on why the administration first insisted the attack was a "spontaneous" act.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also suggested the U.S. was ill-prepared for the threat posed in eastern Libya on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. "Somebody forgot to circle the calendar on 9/11," he said.
While lawmakers sparred on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House and Senate intelligence committees were both holding closed oversight hearings Thursday where a roster of top-ranking intelligence and other officials were set to testify. These include Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Acting Director Michael Morell, who was tapped to replace David Petraeus after he resigned last Friday.
Petraeus, though, has agreed to speak to the intelligence committees about Libya, with back-to-back appearances before the House and Senate panels scheduled for Friday morning. Those, too, will be closed to the public.
While the round of closed hearings is a start, other lawmakers are calling for a more robust inquiry into what happened before, during and after the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi which left four Americans dead.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and two other Republican colleagues on Wednesday called for the creation of a "select committee" to investigate Benghazi.
"Let me be clear: There is no credibility among most of us concerning the administration and the numerous controversies and contradictions that have been involved in their handling of this issue," McCain said, at a lengthy news conference on Capitol Hill.
McCain was joined by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in calling for a temporary Senate committee established specifically to investigate Libya. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid later said he would not support their proposal.
Though the administration has urged lawmakers to wait until an internal review is completed, lawmakers have raised a litany of questions about the attack.
The latest dispute centers on U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who repeatedly said the attack was spontaneous on five Sunday shows after the attack despite other officials preparing to call it terrorism. Obama, in his first post-election press conference Wednesday, called the criticism "outrageous" and told those lawmakers to "go after me."
Graham responded: "Mr President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as commander in chief before, during and after the attack."
Though Petraeus is embroiled in a scandal over an extramarital affair -- which led to his resignation -- he is not expected to address that when he speaks to lawmakers Friday. Rather, he will stick to Libya.
Lawmakers want to know, among other things, about a trip Petraeus took to Libya the week of Oct. 31. They are curious about a report that was put together summarizing his meetings and which may include details of his personal interviews with the CIA station chief in Benghazi about the attack. A State Department consulate, as well as a CIA annex, came under heavy fire that night.