Republicans blamed President Obama for the killing of four Americans in Libya within hours of the September 11 attack, attributing the violence to the administration’s supposed penchant for “apologizing” and failing to lead in the region. Within days, Republicans charged that Democrats, by arguing that the deaths were caused by a YouTube video disparaging the Prophet Muhammed, were covering up and misleading al Qaeda’s involvement in the deaths and called for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s resignation. During a series of Sunday show appearances on September 16th, she pointedly argued that the attackers took advantage of a protest against the video to carry out the killings.
But now, a growing drumbeat of evidence has found that the administration’s claims were substantiated by the the intelligence community. Eyewitnesses in Benghazi initially told officials and reporters that “members of the group that raided the U.S. mission specifically mentioned the video, which denigrated the prophet Muhammad” and “found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda.” The CIA also believed that the clip acted as an accelerant for the killings, instructing both Obama and Rice that “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.” The agency did not change its assessment until September 22.
The new evidence undermines the GOP’s accusations. But rather than back away from the blame game, they’re doubling down on their attacks against the administration. During an appearance on Fox News on Monday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) — who led the Republican effort to use the Libya incident as a way to weaken Obama’s foreign policy credentials — insisted that Obama should have questioned the intelligence community’s conclusions and suggested that he pressured the CIA to doctor its findings to fit his re-election narrative:
KING: I want to find out why the president didn’t ask questions….Did they ask the State Department if they had any videos what occurred at the consulate that night? Why with all these threats leading up to September 11th and talking about terror attacks and how could they now be saying it was not a terror attack. I think they’re hiding behind the term intelligence community. To me shows the president did not look into what happened, did not inquire what happened, was willing to look at something face value. Why was the report at face value whether there was so much evidence in there showing it was terrorist attack. It cries out for explanation and investigation. [...]
Who are the individuals or the ones the president claim gave him this information? And did the president steer them in that direction? Was this is mind set by the administration that said Libya was great victory and Al Qaeda was on the ropes and no longer a threat to us?
During an earlier appearance on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, King also suggested that Rice should have known that the intelligence presented to her was false and interrogated the assessments before appearing on that series of Sunday political talk shows. “She’s in the chain of command at the State Department,” he said. “Did she just take that information or did she go to the Secretary of State?”
Reports have indicated that despite the intelligence community’s growing uncertainty about the impetus for the attacks, “intelligence officials didn’t feel they had enough conclusive, new information to revise their assessment” and did not communicate their doubts to Rice before her Sunday show appearances. This assessment was also reflected in Obama’s Presidential Daily Briefings.