By Alexander Bolton - 09/22/12 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Republicans are furious the Obama administration rebuffed their attempts to learn details of the Benghazi attack, only to give the coveted information to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“That is the most useless, worthless briefing I have attended in a long time,” Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerOvernight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Dem leaders defend overriding 9/11 bill veto GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters after the closed-door session.
GOP lawmakers were incensed to find many of the details they tried to learn Thursday were in a front-page article in The Times the following morning.
“I was very disappointed in the briefing yesterday, too. The bottom line is, we asked questions like, ‘How many people were at the Benghazi consulate?’ You pick up The New York Times and you get a blow-by-blow description of what supposedly went on,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamKerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override McConnell opens door to changing 9/11 bill MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Times published a timeline of the attacks chronicling militants gaining access to the U.S. compound after 9:35 pm on Sept. 11, American security forces attempting to retake it at 10:45 pm and American and Libyan forces regaining control of the main compound around 11:20 pm, before evacuating.
According to the timeline, Libyans found Stevens in the compound after midnight and took him to a hospital, and 20 embassy staff members were hit by mortar rounds around 2 am, an attack that killed two former Navy SEALs.
The official Senate briefing was less informative.
“It was like pulling teeth to get information yesterday,” Graham said of the meeting with Clinton and other administration officials. “A lot of senators were frustrated. And you pick up major newspapers in the country and you find details not shared with you.”
The Wall Street Journal published a similarly detailed account of the attack.
“We were told nothing. We were told absolutely nothing,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainGOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions Kerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria Trump, Clinton to headline Al Smith dinner MORE (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the Armed Services Panel.
McCain said the details lawmakers sought were in The Times and The Journal.
“If that isn’t an incredible disrespect to the members of the United States Senate, I don’t know what is,” he said. “It’s an example of the disdain with which this body is held by the administration, including, I’m sorry to say, the secretary of state.”
“She didn’t talk about anything,” McCain said of Clinton in a subsequent interview.
Senators asked Clinton about the sequence of events during the Benghazi attack. She and other officials declined to provide any specifics, citing an ongoing investigation.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter also attended the briefing.
Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with the press.
Some think the media has given Obama favorable coverage.
Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Grassley accuses Reid of 'pure unfiltered partisanship' California to allow experimental drug treatments for the terminally ill MORE (R-Wis.) said the media’s intense coverage of Mitt Romney’s controversial remarks about 47 percent of the nation depending on government handouts had distracted from the central issue of the election: the economy.
“The problem is the media coverage of it. Obviously the campaign wants to talk about the real issues,” he said of the comment, which has dominated press coverage this week. “It will be an issue as long as the media makes it one.
“I’m starting to think that there might be a little bit of a media bias,” he quipped.
Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerTo protect taxpayers, the Hyde Amendment must be permanent GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea MORE (R-Miss.) said the media has helped Obama by not focusing enough on the nation’s sluggish economy and $16 trillion debt.
“The president of the United States is doing everything he can to change the subject from that real central issue of our faltering economy and yes, the mainstream media is out there playing trivial pursuit and talking about everything that is not important and that is a distraction,” Wicker said on the Senate floor Friday.
Republicans led by McCain have complained loudly this year that Obama’s senior advisors have tried to generate favorable stories by leaking classified information to reporters.
In June, McCain called for a special counsel to investigate national security leaks to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
McCain has voiced concern over stories detailing President Obama’s approval of a kill list of suspected terrorists and the role of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies in a cyber attack against Iran.
Correction: Christopher Stevens name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version. The Hill regrets the error.