The White House accused Republicans of a political distraction Wednesday after House committee chairmen asked President Obama to release a State Department cable that they said would prove Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary off state, signed off on security cuts at the diplomatic post in Benghazi ahead of the attack Sept. 11.
According to the committee chairmen, the April 2012 Clinton cable denies the U.S. Embassy in Libya's request for more security. Five months later, the outpost in Benghazi was attacked and four Americans were killed, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
"An April 19, 2012, cable bearing Secretary Clinton's signature acknowledged requests for additional security, but nevertheless ordered the withdrawal of security assets to proceed as planned," the chairmen of five House committees wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.
"Given the gravity of this issue, we request that you immediately make the April 19, 2012, State Department cable public."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mrs. Clinton's signature on the cable was standard for all diplomatic cables and was a practice continued from prior administrations.
He accused the Republicans of trying to "stoke a false controversy."
Mrs. Clinton resigned as secretary of state this year, but political analysts say she could make another run for the White House in 2016. If she does, questions about her role in Benghazi are sure to dog her.
Officials in Libya made repeated requests for more security and reported to headquarters that the situation was deteriorating in Benghazi. The British Embassy, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew their personnel from Benghazi.
Mrs. Clinton has testified that she never saw the requests for more security and that subordinates made decisions to reduce protection.
But in an interim report released Tuesday, the chairmen of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Judiciary Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Oversight & Government Reform Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee said the evidence shows otherwise.
The chairmen cleared the intelligence community of blame, saying it gave plenty of warning that an attack could happen. The chairmen also cleared the Pentagon, saying the military did what it could to respond, but it was limited.
Instead, the lawmakers said it was Mr. Obama and his aides at the White House, along with Mrs. Clinton and her team at the State Department, who failed.
"The report demonstrates that reductions in security levels prior to the attacks were approved at the highest levels of the State Department," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican, said Wednesday. "The report also finds that in the days after the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to cover up the State Department's responsibility for this disaster."
Mr. Carney said the administration is focused on trying to track down those who orchestrated the attack.
He said the House "efforts to politicize this have failed in the past and are not helpful to the broad national security efforts we share."
Mr. Royce, though, said the State Department must answer more questions.
He also said he will introduce a bill to give the department's internal review process more freedom. He and fellow Republicans were critical of the internal review on Benghazi, saying it stopped short of tracing the decision to withdraw security to the highest levels, and it didn't recommend any discipline for officials in the chain of command who were involved in that decision.
The administration initially said the attack was spontaneous mob violence sparked by an anti-Muslim video but later called it an organized terrorist assault.
The Republican report said the White House was responsible for prohibiting the mention of terrorism, and the report said administration officials were trying to shield themselves from criticism that they had been too lax in security.
The Republican report reflected an internal battle within the House caucus. Rank-and-file Republicans feared the pressure to get answers on the Benghazi attack was dying out, and they had called for a Watergate-style special committee to investigate. Republican leaders resisted, saying the chairmen of the five committees could handle the work.
Democrats on the five committees fired off a letter Tuesday saying they were left out of the report-writing entirely and that the result was biased.
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