Not surprisingly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to brush off the discovery of three e-mails sent to the White House on Sept. 11, 2012, identifying the Benghazi, Libya, attack as terrorism. Meanwhile, Right Turn has learned that staffers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee are investigating.

In downplaying the three White House e-mails, Clinton ironically uses the very term — “cherry pick” — used by critics to describe how the White House for two weeks justified putting out a cover story that the assault was a spontaneous reaction to the anti-Muslim YouTube video:

Unbelievably, the man who definitively told reporters on Sept. 14 that this was all about the video, Jay Carney, intoned: “There were e-mails about all sorts of information that was becoming available in the aftermath of the attack. The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgments about what happened and who is responsible.”

Remarkable that Clinton, who for days tied the assault and murder of four Americans to the YouTube video, would say that a terrorist threat posted on Facebook (which in fact was carried out) was not proof of anything.

But of course the e-mails are a big deal. If one accepts that there were many strands of evidence, why would the administration seize on the motive offered by the terrorists (offense taken over the anti-Muslim video) over that offered by State’s own people on the ground (terrorist attack)?

Now in this tangled web of cover stories, confusion and simple incompetence let’s consider if others besides the White House might be enamored of a storyline that didn’t suggest al-Qaeda was alive and well and that our intelligence community had once again dropped the ball. Why, it might be the intelligence community that pushed the anti-Muslim video cover story to the forefront (and into the talking points). And certainly that explanation would have been warmly embraced by the White House. Any natural curiosity (How could this be right since there were so many jihadists and no protest? But didn’t they raise the black flag of al-Qaeda at more than one U.S. facility in the region?) would understandably take a back seat to the desire to preserve the president’s election narrative (e.g. put al-Qaeda on its heel, Libya was a success, Obama gets us out of harm’s way). No wonder so many people reached a preposterous and eventually debunked conclusion.

Now staffers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have begun investigating, although no public hearings have yet been held. A committee spokesperson told me, “Last week, the committee requested documents from State, DNI, and DOD.”

A senior aide close to the investigation tells me that committee chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others are coming to believe that “what happened in Benghazi involved multiple failures — not just by a single department or agency of our government, but by a number different parts of our government — before, during, and after the attack.” The source describes an administration-wide breakdown: “These include potential failures of intelligence, failures of process, and failures of policy. This attack unfortunately happened during an intensely political and partisan moment in the life of our country — at the height of a presidential campaign — but it’s important for the sake of our national security for everyone to step back, set aside partisan politics, and set up a process to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.”

That said, the democratic process also should allow voters the opportunity to assess the president’s performance and hear his responses to questions about what he knew and when he knew it. The process of public accountability, which falls largely to the media, has also been a “failure,” fueled either by sloth or partisan sympathy for the president. As a result, voters will have to make their choice on Nov. 6 knowing only that many things went very wrong in an administration that had the benefit, yet didn’t learn the lessons, of the 1990s and Sept. 11, 2001. If not deceit, we are looking at an administration that failed in what President Obama has described as his most important duty — “to keep the American people safe.”