Two Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday demanding to see diplomatic cables sent from Libya prior to the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“While we appreciate your participation in the briefing to the U.S. Senate last week, we are extremely concerned about conflicting reports over the events leading up to the attacks,” wrote Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “Specifically, we are concerned over the apparent lack of security preparations made despite a demonstrable increase in risks to U.S. officials and facilities in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks.”
Republicans have raised concerns about potentially lax security at the Consulate in Benghazi, which was not guarded by Marines when it came under assault on Sept. 11 despite previous attacks against U.S. and other Western targets. Stevens's diary, found at the scene by a CNN reporter several days after his death, also appears to raise concerns over the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and rising levels of Islamist extremism.
The White House has said that the attack was sparked by anger over an amateur anti-Islam film posted to YouTube, while many Republicans, including chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (Mich.), have suggested the attack might have been a planned terrorist action and questioned the security arrangements made for U.S. personnel in Libya.
The White House says no available intelligence supports the idea that the attack was premeditated.
GOP lawmakers have also expressed anger over learning many details of the attack in a front-page article in The New York Times last week, with Corker saying that the report contained more information than a briefing senators received from Clinton.
“That is the most useless, worthless briefing I have attended in a long time,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters after the closed-door session last week.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also used the attacks as a centerpiece of his criticism of Obama’s foreign policy, which seeks to paint the president as weak and having underestimated the challenges of the post-Arab Spring Middle East.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Romney also charged the administration with failing “to level with the American people” about the details of the consulate attack.
Republicans have jumped on a comment from Obama describing the recent turmoil in the Middle East as “bumps in the road,” accusing him of downplaying the American deaths.
The White House, though, said Obama’s statement was in response to a larger discussion about whether the unrest in the region had made the administration question support for post-Arab Spring governments.
On Monday, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama praised Stevens, saying the diplomat “embodied the best of America.”