Republicans are lashing out at President Barack Obama and senior administration officials over their evolving description of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya after fresh claims that U.S. intelligence officials knew almost immediately that the attack was a coordinated terrorist plot.
Two senior U.S. officials told Fox News on Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials were aware within 24 hours of the attack that it was a terrorist plot and suspected al-Qaeda was involved.
“This is turning into something not short of Benghazi-gate,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told Fox News.
As FoxNews.com points out, the “account sharply conflicted with claims by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on the Sunday after the attack that the administration believed the strike was a ‘spontaneous’ event triggered by protests in Egypt over an anti-Islam film.”
“The best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack — that what happened initially was it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video,” Rice said on “Fox News Sunday” earlier this month.
Her assessment was at odds with Libya’s interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, who said there was no doubt the perpetrators had predetermined the date of the assault.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also initially tried to blame the fatal attack on the anti-Muslim YouTube video, deflecting blame from radical Islam and the Obama adminstration. Finally, Carney and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the violence a terrorist attack last week. However, Obama has still not called the incident a terrorist attack, despite being given many chances. He said last week that extremists used an anti-Islam video as an excuse to assault U.S. interests.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday also admitted it was a terrorist attack.
“What terrorists were involved I think still remains to be determined by the investigation,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “But it clearly was a group of terrorists who conducted that attack.”
Now, lawmakers want answers as to why they were initially “misled.”
“If there was information a day after that was to the contrary, I think Congress was misled,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told Fox News. “But again, it’s even more serious than that. It means that we have a real problem in not being able to face up to the national security challenges our country faces.”
Corker also said that the briefing he and his fellow lawmakers received was “worthless.”
Fox News has more details:
“It was just unbelievable that Ambassador Rice and Secretary Clinton and the White House spokesman and others would say that there was no evidence – that this was a spontaneous attack, yet they say, ‘come on, honey, bring your mortars, we’re going to a spontaneous demonstration,’” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS’ “This Morning.”
McCain, who called the administration’s statements “disgraceful,” joined three other Republican senators this week in a letter to Rice pressing her on her “troubling statements that are inconsistent with the facts.”
The FBI is investigating, but the apparent contradictions have prompted demands for information from Congress and a flurry of scathing letters to the administration.
So far, U.S. intelligence has indicated that heavily armed extremists numbering 50 or more attacked the consulate, relying on gun trucks for added firepower. They established a perimeter, limiting access to the compound. A first wave of attacks forced the Americans to flee to a fallback building, where a second group of extremists attacked with mortar fire. Stevens died of apparent smoke inhalation when he was caught inside one of the consulate buildings, which had been set on fire.
Officials have not singled out one responsible group, but have focused their attention on Ansar al-Shariah, a Libyan militant group led by a former detainee at the U.S. military-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that there has been a “thread of intelligence reporting” about groups in eastern Libya trying to coalesce, but no specific threat to the consulate.
Since the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last year, militias, weapons and terrorists are common in Libya.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Front page image from Getty.