Outrage growing on U.S. response to consulate attack

White House, Rice shoulder blame

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Outrage continued to grow Sunday over the Obama administration’s initial reaction to the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, which is being blasted as disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.

The furor built throughout last week, culminating with Rep. Peter King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, calling on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to step down. Mr. King and others have said that Ms. Rice, along with other White House officials, misled the public by first suggesting the attack in Benghazi, which took the life of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, was a spontaneous act. The administration, confronted with mounting evidence, later admitted it was a planned act of terrorism to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Republicans, including the party’s vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, have latched on to the botched response and are calling it a clear example of the administration’s disjointed and ineffective foreign policy.

“There are Republicans and Democrats in Congress calling for an investigation, as we need to have. [The administration’s] response was slow, it was confused, it was inconsistent,” Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich went a step further, saying the response means one of two things, both very disturbing.

“I don’t know if I feel more comfortable knowing the administration is incompetent and lied to us, or I feel more comfortable that the intelligence community was thoroughly out of touch. My hunch is the intelligence community was not out of touch. The Congress ought to be holding hearings right now. This entire incident makes no sense,” Mr. Gingrich said on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” show on CBS.

Sen. John McCain said the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan crisis shows “absolute ineptitude,” but he stopped short of endorsing Mr. King’s call for Ms. Rice’s resignation.

“No, I think she’s the messenger,” Mr. McCain said. But the Arizona Republican said the U.N. ambassador was being misused politically by the White House.

“I think there are certain political overtones. How else — how else could you trot out our U.N. ambassador to say this was a spontaneous demonstration?” he said. “I mean, for her to come out and say what she said, obviously, was total ignorance of the facts on the ground.”

Democrats have thus far rebuffed calls for Ms. Rice and other officials to resign. Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that Republicans need to take a deep breath and allow the investigation to continue, and not direct all of their fire at Ms. Rice.

“I’m particularly troubled by calls for Ambassador Rice’s resignation. She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission,” he said in a statement.

Obama campaign strategists vehemently defended the White House’s response Sunday, arguing that the inaccurate description of the attacks — that they sprung up spontaneously as the result of an anti-Muslim film — were merely the result of a lack of information. In the following days, more facts came to light and the administration altered its stance accordingly, Obama adviser David Plouffe said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“There has been information provided in real time. Obviously you’re going to know more about an event a week after it happens and more two weeks after it happens,” he said. “What Ambassador Rice and others were doing was going on what our intelligence agencies were saying at the time.”

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