GOP on attack over new Benghazi emails

Republicans want answers

  • ** FILE ** Libyan military guards check one of the burned-out buildings at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2012, during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif to express sympathy for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)** FILE ** Libyan military guards check one of the burned-out buildings at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2012, during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif to express sympathy for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Libyan civilians celebrate the raiding of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 21, 2012, after hundreds of Libyans, military and police raided the Brigades base. (Associated Press)**FILE** Libyan civilians celebrate the raiding of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 21, 2012, after hundreds of Libyans, military and police raided the Brigades base. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (right), under secretary for management at the State Department, answers questions Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. From left are Kennedy; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security; Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer with the State Department; and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guard Army Green Beret who was the top security official at the consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (right), under secretary for management at the State Department, answers questions Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. From left are Kennedy; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security; Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer with the State Department; and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guard Army Green Beret who was the top security official at the consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)
  • A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, two days before. (Associated Press)A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, two days before. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** A man looks at documents Sept. 12, 2012, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The graffiti reads, "no God but God," "God is great," and "Muhammad is the Prophet." (Associated Press)**FILE** A man looks at documents Sept. 12, 2012, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The graffiti reads, "no God but God," "God is great," and "Muhammad is the Prophet." (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** President Mohammed el-Megarif (center) visits the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 14, 2012, to express sympathy for the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)**FILE** President Mohammed el-Megarif (center) visits the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 14, 2012, to express sympathy for the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)
  • Libyan and American children carry a wreath Sept. 17, 2012, with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on it as they gather in Benghazi, Libya, to pay their respect to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate. Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack. (Associated Press)Libyan and American children carry a wreath Sept. 17, 2012, with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on it as they gather in Benghazi, Libya, to pay their respect to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate. Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** White House workers walk on the roof of the White House on Sept. 12, 2012, after lowering the flag to half-staff for the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)**FILE** White House workers walk on the roof of the White House on Sept. 12, 2012, after lowering the flag to half-staff for the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Tom Stevens (left), Anne Stevens Sullivan (center) and Hilary Stevens Koziol, siblings of slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, speak Oct. 16, 2012, about their brother during a public memorial in the rotunda at City Hall in San Francisco. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press**FILE** Tom Stevens (left), Anne Stevens Sullivan (center) and Hilary Stevens Koziol, siblings of slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, speak Oct. 16, 2012, about their brother during a public memorial in the rotunda at City Hall in San Francisco. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press
  • **FILE** A Marine honor guard stands during an Oct. 16, 2012, public memorial in the rotunda of City Hall in San Francisco to honor slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** A Marine honor guard stands during an Oct. 16, 2012, public memorial in the rotunda of City Hall in San Francisco to honor slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Two women hold each other Sept. 19, 2012, as they watch the hearse of former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty leave the Church of St. Eulalia in Winchester, Mass., after his funeral. Doherty, 42, and three others, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Two women hold each other Sept. 19, 2012, as they watch the hearse of former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty leave the Church of St. Eulalia in Winchester, Mass., after his funeral. Doherty, 42, and three others, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on as President Obama delivers a statement Sept. 12, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House on the death of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on as President Obama delivers a statement Sept. 12, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House on the death of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Libyans gather Sept. 12, 2012, at the gutted U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack the previous day that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. (Associated Press)**FILE** Libyans gather Sept. 12, 2012, at the gutted U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack the previous day that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Oct. 15, 2012, in Lima, Peru, after meeting Peru's President Ollanta Humala. Taking responsibility for security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, where an attack by extremists last month killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Clinton said that security at all of America's diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House. (Associated Press)**FILE** U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Oct. 15, 2012, in Lima, Peru, after meeting Peru's President Ollanta Humala. Taking responsibility for security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, where an attack by extremists last month killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Clinton said that security at all of America's diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Charlene Lamb (center), deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security, testifies Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. She is joined by Eric Nordstrom (left), a regional security officer with the State Department, and Amb. Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management at the State Department. (Associated Press)**FILE** Charlene Lamb (center), deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security, testifies Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. She is joined by Eric Nordstrom (left), a regional security officer with the State Department, and Amb. Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management at the State Department. (Associated Press)
  • ** FILE ** House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, delivers his opening statement Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the committee's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)** FILE ** House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, delivers his opening statement Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the committee's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Aides bearing armfuls of papers arrive Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill with witnesses from the State Department for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. (Associated Press)**FILE** Aides bearing armfuls of papers arrive Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill with witnesses from the State Department for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. (Associated Press)

Congressional Republicans on Wednesday spotlighted a newly revealed email that shows Obama administration officials were told within hours of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that an al-Qaeda-inspired militant group had claimed responsibility for the assault.

After the White House and State Department downplayed the significance of the email Wednesday, Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte sent a letter to President Obama asking why U.S. officials “described the attack for days afterward as a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video.”

“These emails make clear that your administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it,” the senators’ letter states. “This latest revelation only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways that you did.”

Earlier Wednesday, administration officials said the email, which was first reported by Reuters, was just part of an initial scramble of communications about the assault that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Hosting something on Facebook is not, in and of itself, evidence,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters after the email was leaked to news outlets and posted online. “I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and contended for some time.”

Her assertion matched that of White House press secretary Jay Carney, who said “there were emails about all sorts of information that was coming available in the aftermath of the attack.” He noted that within hours of the email, Ansar al-Shariah “claimed that it had not been responsible — neither should be taken as fact.”

What did they know and when?

The Tunisian government said Wednesday that it had arrested a 28-year-old Tunisian man who is suspected to have participated in the consulate attack. An Interior Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press that Ali Harzi was being held in the nation’s capital, Tunis.

Tunisia sits between Libya and Algeria in North Africa, where authorities regularly cite the threat of al Qaeda-inspired militants.

The State Department declined to comment on the extent to which Tunisian authorities are cooperating with U.S. and Libyan authorities investigating the Benghazi attack.

One U.S. intelligence official has described Mr. Harzi as a member of violent extremist networks in the region, according to an article by The Daily Beast, which first reported his arrest Tuesday.

The developments amplified an already politically charged debate over why the White House was initially unwilling to characterize the Benghazi attack as one carried out by Islamic extremists.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the new email undermines “any administration claim to have ever believed in good faith that [the attack occurred] in a ‘spontaneous reaction’ to a film trailer posted on the Internet.” He called on the president to release all intelligence reports and analyses about the attack.

Although Mr. Obama used the words “acts of terror” to describe the attack in prepared remarks Sept. 12, other administration officials maintained in ensuing days that the assault — by heavily armed men with mortar support — had grown out of a spontaneous protest against an American-made video disparaging Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

The Benghazi attack happened just hours after demonstrators had stormed the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Although there has been no evidence of a similar protest preceding the attack in Benghazi, some in the intelligence community continue to say the incidents in Libya and Egypt are connected.

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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