Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) penned some questions to President Obama yesterday on the Benghazi terror attack, saying that his recent interview with Bill O’Reilly raised “more questions than it answers” about the deaths of four Americans at the diplomatic facility.
From the senators’ letter:
First, in your interview with O’Reilly, you said, “In the aftermath what became clear was that the security was lax, that not all the precautions that needed to be taken were taken.” We agree with your assessment, which is substantiated by the terrorist attack itself as well as multiple reports. The recent bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report concluded that the intelligence community provided “ample strategic warning” that our people in Benghazi were at risk. Yet, the State Department under your leadership and the leadership of Secretary Clinton ignored those warnings and failed on multiple levels to either increase security sufficiently or close the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
Despite this, on the Sunday shows on September 16, Susan Rice said, “Well, we obviously did have a strong security presence…” She also called the security “substantial” and “significant”. Can you explain why your administration’s designated spokesperson made statements so inconsistent with the facts and with your view?
Second, during the interview you said, “…understand by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound…that’s an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened.” While you made an ambiguous reference to “acts of terror” on September 12, later that day, when asked by Steve Kroft on 60 minutes why you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism, you responded by saying, “Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about…” Can you explain this apparent contradiction?
Your unwillingness to describe the attack in Benghazi as a terrorist attack is especially troubling given the fact that your Secretary of Defense at the time, Leon Panetta, said, “there was no question in my mind it was a terrorist attack…when I appeared before this committee three days afterwards, I said it was a terrorist attack.” In addition, your Central Intelligence Agency Director at the time, General David Petraeus, is reported to have said he knew it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.
Third, you said during the O’Reilly interview that “…the notion that we would hide the ball for political purposes when a week later we all said in fact there was a terrorist attack taking place the day after I said it was an act of terror, that wouldn’t be a very good cover-up.” This statement is inconsistent with the facts. On September 24—almost two weeks after the terrorist attack—you were asked the following question on The View: “I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?” You responded saying, “We’re still doing an investigation. There’s no doubt that (with) the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. We don’t have all the information yet, so we’re still gathering it.” If a week later you and your administration were admitting the events in Benghazi represented a terrorist attack, why did you refuse to say so almost two weeks after the attack and instead say, “We’re still doing an investigation”?
Fourth, for more than a week after the attack, your administration continued to blame the terrorist attack on the hateful video and a supposed protest. As late as September 20—9 days after the terrorist attack—you said, “What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
Yet, the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report concluded that, “Contrary to many press reports at the time, eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicate that there were no protests at the start of the attacks.” And on September 15, 2012, the CIA’s Chief of Station in Tripoli sent to the then-Deputy Director of the ClA and others at the CIA an email that reported the attacks were “not/not an escalation of protests.”
Can you explain why you continued to cite the video and protests as the cause for the attack when your administration knew from eyewitnesses within days of the attack that there were no protests and your CIA Deputy Director was informed on September 15 that the attacks were not an escalation of protests? Did the FBI and CIA not share this information with you?
Finally, on September 12, in the Rose Garden, you said, “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.” Yet, in almost 17 months, none of the terrorists have been brought to justice. The families of the murdered Americans deserve to see the terrorists brought to justice. Moreover, terrorists around the world need to know that if they kill Americans, we will hunt them down and bring them to justice. Allowing terrorists apparently involved in the attack to sit and give interviews in cafés sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for killing Americans.
The senators “respectfully” asked the president to answer all of their questions.