Nearly two months after the terrorist assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, it continues to ripple across American politics, though the constantly shifting timelines provided by the administration and the new questions raised by Republicans have not dramatically reshaped the presidential race.
In the past week alone, the Central Intelligence Agency issued a statement acknowledging a greater role in responding to the attack than has previously been disclosed. The CIA defended its operators’ response and denied a report by Fox News portraying the agency as following an internal order to stand down while the consulate burned and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed.
Details about what happened Sept. 11 are still murky, and Republicans in Congress are pressing for clarity.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, late last week announced an agreement with Tunisia to allow U.S. authorities an in-person interview with a Tunisian suspect reportedly caught on tape attacking the consulate that night.
He and Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte have also demanded that the Senate create a special investigative committee to press for answers.
“We believe that the complexity and gravity of this matter warrants the establishment of a temporary Select Committee that can conduct an integrated review of the many national security issues involved, which cut across multiple executive agencies,” the senators said in a letter Saturday.
Several committees have already said they’ll conduct investigations, but the three Republicans said the Senate needs a single panel with broad scope.
The administration has investigations going at the State Department and by the FBI, too, and the White House has declined to answer most questions until the State Department review is completed.
But this past weekend, Mrs. Ayotte and Sen. Marco Rubio questioned whether the department could conduct a fair investigation since it currently lacks a full inspector general who has been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Despite the heat on Capitol Hill, Benghazi has largely been absent from the campaign circuit as both candidates spend their final days barnstorming battleground states and focusing most of their final arguments on jobs and the economy.
On Sunday, during a briefing with reporters aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked about a report that Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Africa Command, may have been forced to resign because he wanted to disobey an order to stand down and not respond to the unfolding crisis at the consulate on Sept. 11. Mr. Carney referred the question to the Pentagon.
Mitt Romney, too, has dropped an earlier critique of President Obama’s handling of Benghazi, after the Republican nominee bungled his own response in the second presidential debate.
On “Fox News Sunday,” senior campaign strategist David Axelrod was asked about a popular suspicion among conservatives — that Mr. Obama has made a “calculated decision to run out the clock” to avoid answering Benghazi-related questions until after Tuesday’s election.
He replied: “No.”
Mr. Axelrod declined to say whether Mr. Obama was aware of decisions by the American Red Cross and the British government to pull its personnel prior to the Sept. 11 siege.