Published February 15, 2013
President Obama knew about the IED attacks on the Benghazi consulate in the run-up to the deadly Sept. 11 assault, a top Republican lawmaker claims, suggesting the president was aware of the deteriorating security situation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told him "the president was informed of the April and June attacks." One of those attacks, in June, blew a hole in the perimeter wall of the Benghazi compound. The two strikes were among dozens of security incidents recorded in the region in the months preceding Sept. 11, and in hindsight have been described as warning signs.
The disclosure about Obama comes after a string of Capitol Hill hearings in which top administration officials downplayed how much they knew about the security situation at the compound in advance of the September attack.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a hearing shortly before she left the administration, said she never saw an Aug. 16 State Department cable sent to her office that warned the consulate could not sustain a coordinated attack.
"I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention," she said. The cable was first reported by Fox News.
While Clinton claims her deputies never showed her the cable -- which has been described as the smoking-gun warning -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey later said they were in fact apprised of that cable.
Asked whether Obama had wanted anything done about the unraveling security situation in Benghazi, neither Clapper's office nor the National Security Council would address the question.
A DNI spokesman, though, said the administration has been cooperative with Congress on their many Libya questions. "Since the attack on our facility in Benghazi, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the entire Intelligence Community, has worked closely with members of Congress to respond to all requests for information. We have testified before multiple committees, delivered numerous briefs, provided thousands of pages of intelligence data and answered nearly 200 written questions," the spokesman said.
At his confirmation hearing for CIA Director, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan suggested information about what the president knew or what advice he was given falls into the category of "executive privilege" -- which the White House typically claims in order to not disclose information.
Lawmakers have focused sharply in recent weeks on what the White House knew in advance of the attacks and what Obama specifically did on the night of the attacks.
Republicans united on Thursday to stall the nomination of Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta, largely over outstanding questions on the Libya issue.
The White House on Thursday wrote a letter to key Republican senators disclosing that Obama did not talk to the Libyan president until the evening of Sept. 12, the next day.
In pointed remarks, Graham said Obama talked to the Libyan government "after everybody was dead" and suggested the president could have made a difference had he gotten directly involved earlier.
"You got a commander in chief who is absolutely disengaged," Graham later told Fox News. "You got the secretary of State never talking to the secretary of Defense."
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice gave her first interview Thursday since she withdrew from consideration for secretary of State. Rice, who weathered tough criticism from Republicans for claiming the Sunday after the attack that the violence grew out of protests over an anti-Islam film, defended herself on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
She suggested she was the victim of bad intelligence, claiming she "shared the best information that our intelligence community had at the time."
Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.