- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

A brewing conflict between Congress and the Obama administration broke into the open Thursday as several lawmakers were critical about a briefing on the Sept. 11 anniversary attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya, which the administration had said was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other administration officials held a series of closed-door briefings for members of both houses over how to conduct an independent investigation of the lethal assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which the administration for the first time Thursday conceded was a “terrorist attack.”

But after the briefings, Republicans were openly skeptical about the information they had just been given, and even some Democrats acknowledged that the administration’s initial claims don’t seem to hold up. The attack last week took the lives of four Americans.

“There’s increasing amount of evidence that this was a coordinated attack by terrorists,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “The movie wasn’t the catalyst for this. The catalyst was radical Islamic extremists that wanted to attack the United States and saw an opportunity to do it in Benghazi.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was openly dismissive of the administration. “I’m stunned that they thought this was some kind of spontaneous demonstration,” he told reporters.

Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that while heavy weapons such as mortars weren’t used until several hours after the fighting started, it was “clearly a terrorist attack,” albeit one that more resembled “an armed gang that seized an opportunity” than a perfectly executed plot like the original Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The developments came on another day of acute awareness among U.S. officials of growing anger in the Muslim world, as the State Department began running public service messages on Pakistani TV distancing the U.S. from the anti-Islam film that has enraged the Muslim world, and has opened investigations into the shortcomings of security for its diplomats.

On Thursday, the State Department said that embassy officials in Islamabad have paid roughly $70,000 to buy advertising on seven Pakistani TV stations to air a public service message aimed at dampening perceptions that the “Innocence of Muslims” Internet video that denigrates Islam’s Prophet Muhammad was made by the U.S. government.

Department officials said the message features a recent news clipof Mrs. Clinton saying, “Let me state very clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its contents.”

Dubbed in the Urdu language of Pakistan, the message also features a recent clip of President Obama saying that “since our founding, the United States has been a nation of respect – that respects all faiths” and that “we reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”

Also Thursday, the White House reversed course and conceded for the first time that the assault that killed the Americans in Benghazi was in fact a terrorist attack.

“It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling Thursday with President Obama aboard Air Force One. “Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that’s self-evident.”

The remarks signal a shift in the narrative set by the Obama administration, which has resisted framing the attack as premeditated.

For more than a week since the attack, the administration had characterized it as the result of a protest triggered by anger toward “Innocence of Muslims.” Skeptics have pointed out that some in the crowd were using heavy weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers, in the assault.

State and Congress

Story Continues →