The Obama administration’s public versions of events in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya have been riddled with discrepancies, starting soon after the American dead and survivors left behind a charred diplomatic compound and bullet-scarred CIA building in Benghazi.
The administration’s inconsistencies go beyond its false assertion for days afterward that a made-in-America anti-Muslim video spurred “spontaneous” Sept. 11 assaults in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, his information officer and two former Navy SEALs were killed.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are scheduled Thursday to hold closed-door hearings on the Benghazi attack – grilling top CIA, FBI and State Department officials – amid Republican charges of a pre-election White House cover-up. Former CIA Director David H. Petraeus also will testify before Congress about the Benghazi attack, appearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a closed-door hearing Friday. A Senate hearing is also likely, though details remained uncertain Wednesday night.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is visiting Australia and will not testify this week.
Key issues include:
• Officials’ statements about a Benghazi protest that did not occur.
• The availability of U.S. troops to come to the rescue during the assault.
• The nearly monthlong lag in getting FBI investigators into Benghazi.
Still lingering is the issue of an exact timeline for President Obama on Sept. 11 after the White House received a State Department email about 4 p.m. (10 p.m. Libya time) stating that the consulate was under attack. The White House has not said what he was told by his advisers and what orders, if any, he issued during the eight-hour onslaught.
“If you look at the timeline, in retrospect, it’s obvious they were lying through their teeth,” said Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and national security columnist. “It seemed like the truth was being pulled out of them, piece by piece. It reminds me of Watergate. The constant drip, drip, drip.”
Protesters or terrorists?
No larger discrepancy exists than the one surrounding the motive for the attack on the consulate by scores of militants, who used diesel fuel to set fire to its four main buildings.
On Sept. 12, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told the White House that a spontaneous demonstration over the Internet video grew into a violent attack. Two days later, Mr. Petraeus echoed that account in closed-door comments to senators, according to news reports.
At the time, Mr. Petraeus had ended an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, who was at the center of an FBI investigation over threatening emails to a women she saw as a romantic rival. Conservatives have asked whether the Petraeus scandal prompted the director to toe the administration line. Mr. Petraeus has since resigned.