Boehner’s comments, and GOP calls for new investigations the day after a House hearing on the subject, indicated that Republicans are far from ready to abandon charges of administration wrongdoing before, during and after the attack, which killed four Americans.
The State Department quickly countered that Boehner and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who first brought it up at the hearing, misstated the contents of a Sept. 12 e-mail from Acting Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones to her superiors. Jones, Boehner said, wrote that “she told the Libyan ambassador that the attack was conducted by Islamic terrorists.”
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Jones had not used the word “terrorists” but had called the perpetrators “extremists.” It was unclear whether he considered that a substantive difference or a distinction. He said there was a standard “redaction process” for any publicly released documents.
Ventrell repeated the administration’s insistence that the description of the attack as the response to an offensive video sparking protests across the Islamic world that day — a view most prominently offered in television interviews by Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, days later — was the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community.
The hearing, including a riveting account of the night of the attack by Gregory Hicks, who was deputy ambassador at the embassy in Tripoli, largely concentrated on questions addressed by officials in extensive testimony over the past six months. But at least three aspects sparked new rounds of questions.
Hicks testified that a four-man unit of Special Operations military personnel on temporary duty in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, had tried to go to Benghazi that night to help with a rescue effort before superiors told them to stand down.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the order came from the Special Operations component of the Africa Command, based in Germany, which concluded that the four were more urgently needed in Tripoli, where the embassy was being evacuated, and could not get to Benghazi in time to make a difference.
As the State Department struggled to respond to Hicks’s allegations without appearing to criticize a colleague who performed valiantly during that traumatic night in Libya, officials questioned his account of why U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was among those killed, was in Benghazi in the first place.
Hicks said then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton intended to make the temporary outpost into a permanent U.S. installation and had instructed Stevens to travel there before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.