The Obama administration’s Benghazi response continued to unravel at the House Oversight Committee hearing today, as State Department officials struggled unsuccessfully to get their stories straight.
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy defended UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s claim on September 16 that the attack was part of a spontaneous protest that erupted over an anti-Islam video, saying that anyone at the State Department would have said the same thing as Rice based on the intelligence available at the time. “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point,” said Kennedy.
But, as Republicans on the Oversight Committee pointed out, that appears to contradict Kennedy’s comments from a September 12 unclassified briefing, when he reportedly called it a terrorist attack.
Another State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wrote in her prepared testimony (but did not read aloud) that she was able to monitor the attack “in almost real-time” once a Diplomatic Security agent activated the imminent danger notification system. Yet she didn’t explain why the State Department and other administration officials initially said spontaneous protests were responsible for the attack, if there had been officials monitoring it in real-time.
Both Kennedy’s and Lamb’s comments also contradicted the State Department’s latest official position. In a conference call last night, senior State Department officials told reporters that the department had never believed the attack stemmed from a spontaneous protest:
Asked if the State Department agreed with the White House conclusion that the attack was sparked by the video instead of a planned terror attack on U.S. civilians, the official stated, “that is the question you’d have to ask others, that was not our conclusion.”
That statement contradicts what the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said on Sunday morning political talk shows on Sept. 16.
The officials also struggled to defend the security situation at the consulate. “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi” at the time of the attack, Lamb told the committee. Kennedy seemed to dispute this later in the hearing, saying that State Department security is “never going to have enough guns” to prevent full-force military attacks like the one in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, Benghazi security official Lt. Col. Woods, a whistle-blower working with the Oversight Committee, said he “knew instantly” Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Woods added that he “almost expected the attack” because of the regular threats and security breaches in the area, and the fact that “we were the last flag flying” after the British ambassador had his convoy bombed and pulled out of Benghazi.