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GOP demands answers on Benghazi; hit not a priority on stump

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2012

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.

However, outside an Obama rally in Cincinnati on Sunday night, about 50 people carried signs denouncing Mr. Obama's handling of Benghazi and started jeering the crowd of the president's supporters filing into the gym where the president was scheduled to speak. The Obama supporters responded, by chanting back, "four more years."

Several signs declared, "You let them die" and "Cover-up-in-chief." Still another spelled out Benghazi in big red letters with each person carrying a letter, and another said, "Help Denied. Ambassador died. Obama lied."

In the face of such criticisms, Mr. Obama continues to cite his national security credentials on the campaign trail, including saying he has hurt al Qaeda.

"Because of the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform — a whole lot of them from here in New Hampshire — the war in Iraq is over," the president said while campaigning this past weekend. "The war in Afghanistan is coming to a close. Al Qaeda is on the run. Osama bin Laden is dead."

Some Republicans challenge that claim, saying that al Qaeda-backed groups are regrouping in 10 or more countries. Indeed, some reports have tied the Libya assault to an al Qaeda-allied group, Ansar al-Sharia.

A group of 500 retired generals and admirals is pushing back against Mr. Obama's claims on national security in an ad they have bought in Monday's editions of The Washington Times.

"We, the undersigned, proudly support Governor Mitt Romney as our nation's next president and commander-in-chief," the ad says, listing the hundreds of names of the retired officers.

Almost none of the major pollsters asked people about Benghazi late in the campaign, but a Fox News survey signaled some bad news for Mr. Obama.

The poll of likely voters, released Wednesday, showed they have decided opinions about what happened in Benghazi, but the poll did not include a question on whether the incident would affect their vote on Election Day.

On the specific matter of Benghazi, the poll found that Americans are divided, with 44 percent thinking the administration tried to mislead Americans about what happened there and 47 percent disagreeing. As expected, Republicans are much more likely be critical than Democrats, but more significant is the figure showing independent voters believing the administration tried to mislead Americans by a 49 percent to 42 percent margin.

Despite the Benghazi issue, the Fox News survey found Mr. Obama still attracting 49 percent approval of his handling of foreign policy, compared with 44 percent who disapprove.

Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

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