Issa: Benghazi 'is not about al Qaeda'

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Recent reports claiming al Qaeda played no role in the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, do not exonerate the White House's handling of the terrorist strike, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Sunday. 

"It is not about al Qaeda," the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman said.

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Regardless of which group perpetrated the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, the Obama administration's response to the strike was a "clear attempt" by the White House to mislead the American public, Issa said during an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press." 

Issa has been one of the most outspoken Republican critics on Capitol Hill on the Benghazi attack, which claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

The Obama administration initially claimed the Benghazi attack was the result of an anti-American protest. Only weeks later did officials acknowledge the strike was a planned, coordinated attack by Islamic extremist groups in the country.

A recent New York Times investigation of the attack concluded that al Qaeda did not play a role, but an anti-Muslim video was a factor.

Based on interviews with witnesses, the report found that local militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala was the central figure behind attacks. 

Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) defended the administration's response to Benghazi, saying White House officials "tried their best to level with the American people" with the information provided at the time. 

Issa and other Republicans took allegations of al Qaeda ties to the terrorist strike and "crusaded against the administration" on Capitol Hill, sparking a debate that has shifted focus away from the security issues exposed in Benghazi, Castro said during the same interview. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a senior member of the committee, pushed back against the Times report on Sunday. 

"The intelligence indicates that al Qaeda was involved,” Schiff said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday." 

Rogers took direct aim at the Times report, saying its finding "tells me they didn’t talk to people on the ground who were doing the fighting and shooting and the intelligence gathering,” 

“When you put that volume of information, I think that proves that that story’s just not accurate," he added. 

But Issa reiterated al Qaeda's alleged involvement in the attack was still a secondary issue. 

The administration's seeming flip flop on how the Benghazi attack unfolded was "at best a cover up for CIA or, at worst, cast away the idea" that it was a terror attack. 

News reports shortly after the Benghazi raid alleged the facility was actually a cover for a large-scale CIA intelligence operation inside Libya run out of the State Department compound.