Eli Lake let loose a bombshell yesterday: “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers. Three separate U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said the early information was enough to show that the attack was planned and the work of al Qaeda affiliates operating in Eastern Libya.”

Obviously the report, if true, suggests that the White House lied to the American people by insisting for over a week that this was a spontaneous attack. It is one thing for the president to be so benighted as to think a video sets off multiple attacks on Sept. 11. It is quite another to send out his advisers, including his own spokesman, to mislead voters.

The president should come clean immediately, as should Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and the White House press secretary. To be blunt, this is a “What did the president know and when did he know it?” moment. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently wants no part of the controversy enveloping the White House. She suggested for the first time on Wednesday that “there was a link between the Qaeda franchise in North Africa and the attack at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.” She might want to pass that on to her U.N. ambassador.

Republican lawmakers were already outraged before the story hit, given the lack of information they have received and the seeming turnabout in the administration’s view of the attacks.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, together with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Reps. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), Frank Wolfe (R-Va.), Kay Granger (R-Tex.) have sent a letter to the president demanding answers. The letter reads in part:

We are also disturbed by the public statements made by members of the Administration that would lead the American public to believe this attack was a protest gone wrong, rather than what it truly was — a terrorist attack on the United States on the anniversary of 9/11. Decades after al Qaeda attacked our embassies in East Africa, which catalyzed a series of events that led to the attacks on 9/11, it appears they executed a highly coordinated and well-planned attacked against us again. Clearly, the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups has metastasized; yet we do not appear to be learning from the past. For example, although brave Americans were once more murdered by terrorists, it seems our response is to rely on a late-to-the-scene FBI investigation. Media reports indicate investigators were prevented from arriving in Libya until more than a week after the attack, but it is not clear that they have gone to Benghazi and have, therefore, been unable to secure valuable information, such as the Ambassador’s journal. The FBI has expertise in these situations, and they have a role to play.

However, this seems like a pre-9/11 mindset — treating an act of war solely as a criminal matter, rather than also prioritizing the gathering of intelligence to prevent future attacks. Moreover, given that violence in the region continues unabated, what actions are we undertaking to deter terrorists from capitalizing on the successful Benghazi attack, or launching similar attacks elsewhere in the region or in the homeland?

This follows a blistering statement from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte R-N.H.) on Monday, which read in part: “President Obama recently said the broader Middle East has been experiencing some ‘bumps in the road.’ If the President had taken some time to hold even one meeting with his foreign colleagues during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York today, perhaps they would have told him what has really happened in the Middle East on his watch. It is not a ‘bump in the road’ when American embassies, and those of our friends and allies, are attacked by hateful mobs who also murder their fellow citizens, allegedly because of a disgusting and bigoted video. That is the result of extremists who would seize on any opportunity to further their ideological agenda – extremists who have been gaining ground over the past two years. It is not a ‘bump in the road’ when Al-Qaeda fighters and their terrorist allies have been gaining ground in Libya, a country the United States helped to liberate but has not sufficiently supported in its ongoing struggle against lawlessness and violent extremism.” These and other Middle East developments, they said “are failures of American leadership. And they call for the United States to begin leading more actively, rather than trying to lead from behind.”

The events in the region and the latest revelation about Libya are a test for the president, for Mitt Romney and for the media.

If Obama can’t adequately and swiftly respond to the growing furor over what the administration knew and why it persisted in blaming a video for the attack, he risks a campaign-changing scandal. He’s already accumulated a sorry track record of late (e.g., “bumps in the road,” ducking bilateral talks at the United Nations, calling Israeli complaints about Iran’s nuclear progress “noise”) and this could well be a tipping point in voters’ confidence in him as a credible, resolute commander in chief.

Romney must show he can seize the moment, sound and act presidential and make the case to the American people that either deliberately lying to Americans or being so confused about the threats the United States faces is a disqualifier for Obama. Really, if it were George W. Bush, wouldn’t the Democrats be calling for hearings and demanding the president explain himself?

And finally, now is the time when we see if reporters and pundits are more than shills for the president. The incompetency, and perhaps mendacity, of thee White House here is severe. The media’s glaring unwillingness to hold the president accountable for his actions can be at least partially remedied if they pursue the story vigorously. Even though Bush in good faith believed his intelligence community’s take on weapons of mass destruction, the left-leaning elites hollered, “Bush lied, people died!” But here we have dead Americans and an cover story in shreds. Why is there not, at a bare minimum, a call for answers? Isn’t this a top-of-the-fold issue? Well, my guess is that pundits and reporters alike in the mainstream media will do their best to soften and downplay the story.

I hope I’m wrong and that the media live up to their journalistic responsibilities, but I see little evidence that an epidemic of fairness is breaking out in the mainstream media. All the more reason, then, for lawmakers and Romney to push for answers. Certainly, we shouldn’t have a president in office who would lie to the American people about a critical national security issue for the sake of his own reelection, right?