The State Department acknowledged Wednesday that it rejected appeals for more security at its diplomatic posts in Libya in the months before a fatal terrorist attack in Benghazi as Republicans suggested that lapses contributed to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Republicans also tried to use a congressional hearing to poke holes in the Obama administration’s public explanations for what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, accusing the White House of playing down the possibility that the incident was a successful al-Qaeda assault.
Documents: Security incidents in Libya since June 2011
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The highly charged congressional oversight session, titled “Security Failures of Benghazi,” included sharp accusations from Republicans that the State Department was more interested in presenting a picture of an improving situation in Libya than in ensuring the safety of its staff there.
The session had the feel of a courtroom prosecution as Republicans bored in on inconsistencies and suggested a coverup. The hearing produced few new revelations about the attack, but it underscored the administration’s political vulnerability over the Benghazi episode four weeks before the presidential election.
Security officials on the ground “repeatedly warned Washington officials of the dangerous situation” in Libya, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in his opening statement. “Washington officials seemed preoccupied with the concept of normalization.”
Democrats on the committee defended the administration, saying Republicans had voted to cut some of the very funding for security that they suggest was lacking in Libya. The Democrats also accused the Republicans of running a secretive and overly partisan investigation leading up to the hearing.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, called on House GOP leaders to support a supplemental funding bill to restore diplomatic security resources.
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other government employees were killed when militants attacked two U.S. compounds in the eastern Libyan city. In the days after the assault, administration officials said it appeared to grow out of a protest outside the main compound over an anti-Islamic video. More recently, the administration has described the attack as a premeditated terrorist assault and acknowledged that earlier incidents and warnings about threats had not led to beefed-up security in Benghazi.
President Obama sought to explain the shifting narrative in an interview Wednesday on ABC News. “This has all been well-documented and recorded: As information came in, information was put out,” he said. “The information may not have always been right the first time. And as soon as it turns out that we have a fuller picture of what happened, then that was disclosed. But the bottom line is that my job is to let everybody know I want to know what happened, I want us to get the folks who did it, and I want us to figure out what are the lessons learned and ask the tough questions to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”