Anger over the Benghazi attack is mounting in Congress as Republicans watch the story shift from the errant administration blaming of an anti-Muhammed video to a White House accused of lying to lawmakers.
Mistakes may have been made in consulate security, ineptitude may have led to poor communications in the hours after the attack, Republicans say, but telling lawmakers something other than the truth when the facts were known will not easily be forgiven as we move through the campaign season and toward the lame-duck return to Capitol Hill.
With a keen focus on the economy and time-sensitive budget-related issues awaiting lawmakers in Washington, though, is there the political will to dig as deep as necessary in this roiling scandal?
“This is a very serious cover-up and the president, I’m sure, wants this to go away, the administration — but it’s not going to go away,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told PJM today.
Members of the Intelligence Committee were briefed on the attack late afternoon on the Thursday after the Tuesday, Sept. 11, murders. “That essentially was about the video. Friday, another one about the video. Obviously, it wasn’t believable then and it wasn’t true,” Nunes said.
“Every day they cover this up it gets worse,” he said, adding that new information just conflicts with those initial briefings.
“It’s a fact that within 12 hours the Intelligence Committee knew this was an attack,” the congressman continued. “It’s a fact that administration went on and on that this was a video, which is a lie.”
“The only reason they covered this up is because of politics. Either that, or almost complete incompetence. My guess is that it was probably politics.”
Still, Nunes said, “nobody reasonable holds the president responsible for those four deaths” — Ambassador Chris Stevens, IT expert Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — as the fault ultimately rests with the terrorists who killed them.
“What I fault him for is lying to Congress and lying to the American people,” he said.
“The best thing for the American people, Congress, government, is for everyone to come clean,” at the very least to the intelligence panels, Nunes stressed. “The last thing we want to do is go through some long investigation because people are lying, and that’s where we’re headed — and that’s really unfortunate.”
In the upper chamber, though, a Senate GOP aide told PJM that the outcome of legislators’ efforts is predictable — and dependent upon who wins the White House.
“If Obama wins, it’s over,” the aide said. “The House will hold hearings to ensure that as many aspersions as possible are cast on the character of the administration. But nothing will come of it.”
“If Romney wins, the House hearings will end in a report and Romney will say ‘never again.’”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing during the campaign recess on Oct. 10. A House Judiciary Committee aide told PJM that a briefing on Benghazi has been requested of the administration, but a date for that has yet to be confirmed.
Hearings are also expected from the House Armed Services, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees.
The Senate Intelligence Committee announced yesterday it would hold a closed-door oversight hearing Nov. 15 on the circumstances surrounding Benghazi and intelligence in the region. Vice-Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) had lobbied Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for open hearings.
Though the committee said “additional hearings” would follow the scheduled November one, it didn’t say whether those would be open. “To facilitate this review, the committee has already received initial briefings and is examining relevant information and documents,” said a statement.
And though Feinstein may emerge as especially critical of the administration, as was seen in the security leaks scandal, the classified nature of the hearing would work to her party’s advantage.
“I think she has been designated as the hearings point person for the Dems, because nothing that is said in her hearings can be released publicly anyway,” the Senate GOP aide said. “Clever.”
While senators welcomed the hearings, others questioned the delay.
“I’m glad the Senate Intelligence Committee will finally get a chance to investigate this matter, but the truth is this hearing should have been held weeks ago,” said committee member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “By the time it takes place, two full months will have passed since the September 11th terrorist attack on our consulate in Libya. That’s way too long for the Senate to ask the important questions that have been building up.”
“Four Americans were killed—including our ambassador to Libya—but their lives might have been saved had we intervened. I ask again: Where were the Marines to protect American personnel in Libya?” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who sits on the Homeland Security committee. “Instead of sending Marines to defend Americans in danger, the State Department was focused on ‘greening’ our Vienna Embassy and installing charging stations for its new electric cars. Someone must be held accountable for this inaction.”
Nunes said he expects a number of Democrats to steer clear of supporting the White House in the scandal, even before the election.
“Forget about what the actual issue is — no politician wants to be around other politicians who are lying and taking the heat from this,” he said — especially the House and Senate committee chairmen and ranking members. “They do not want to be anywhere near a cover-up.”
Plus, Nunes added, “The last thing any of us want to do is throw away the good [Intelligence Committee] bipartisanship we’ve built up over last two years.”