GOP chairmen 'disturbed' by Libya story, demand new briefing

Eight House GOP committee chairmen on Wednesday demanded a new briefing “as soon as possible” from the Obama administration on the Libyan consulate attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens dead.

The eight lawmakers scolded the administration for its account of the attack, saying in a letter to President Obama that they were “disturbed” by statements indicating the attack evolved out of a protest of an anti-Islamic video.

The letter said statements by administration officials “would lead the American public to believe this attack was a protest gone wrong, rather than what it truly was – a terrorist attack on the United States on the anniversary of 9/11.”

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“Decades after al Qaeda attacked our embassies in East Africa, which catalyzed a series of events that led to the attacks on 9/11, it appears they executed a highly coordinated and well-planned attacked against us again,” the letter said. “Clearly, the threat from al Qaeda and affiliated groups has metastasized; yet we do not appear to be learning from the past.”

Republicans have particularly honed in on comments from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who said on a round of Sunday show interviews last week that the attacks were “spontaneous” and the result of the video.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to Rice Wednesday asking for an explanation of “how the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations could characterize an attack on a U.S. consulate so inaccurately five days after a terrorist attack that killed four Americans.”

“By the date of your comments, it was already clear that the attack in Libya was a terrorist attack, and that heavily armed and well trained attackers appeared to have prepared for an opportunity to attack U.S. interests,” the senators wrote. “Yet, you repeatedly asserted the implausible explanation that the attack in Benghazi was a spontaneous reaction to the video despite growing evidence to the contrary.”

The two letters are the latest Republican criticism of Obama in the wake of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Stevens and three other Americans dead. The congressional criticism comes as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has hammered Obama over Libya, and his foreign policy in general.

Republicans have slammed the administration for saying the attack was connected to protests of an anti-Islam movie trailer on YouTube. Republicans are also criticizing Obama for his interview on “The View” this week, when he did not call the Libyan attack a terrorist attack.

Republicans argue the attack was a premeditated act of terror. The administration says no intelligence supports the theory it was premeditated. Officials have said the attack appeared to be a spontaneous attack that was carried out using protests against the film as cover.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday “it is the president's view that it was a terrorist attack.”

Asked aboard Air Force One why Obama hadn't used the word terrorist, Carney said: “There is no reason beyond his trying to provide a full explanation of his views,” according to the White House pool report.

The letter from the eight House GOP chairmen criticized the administration for having a “pre-9/11 mindset” responding to the attacks.

“Although brave Americans were once more murdered by terrorists, it seems our response is to rely on a late-to-the-scene FBI investigation,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Media reports indicate investigators were prevented from arriving in Libya until more than a week after the attack, but it is not clear that they have gone to Benghazi and have, therefore, been unable to secure valuable information, such as the ambassador’s journal,” they said.

The lawmakers said they included a set of classified questions they want answered in a briefing.

The letter to Obama was signed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and three Appropriations subcommittee heads.

The lawmakers’ demand for a new briefing comes after top administration officials — including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — held back-to-back briefings last week for the full House and Senate.

But Republicans said the briefings left their questions largely unanswered.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters it was “the most useless worthless briefing I have attended in a long time.”

Corker and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) also requested more information from the administration after the briefing, sending a letter to Clinton Tuesday demanding to see diplomatic cables sent by Stevens before he was killed. Stevens's diary, found at the scene by a reporter several days after his death, appears to raise concerns over the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and rising levels of Islamist extremism.

—This story was posted at 11:42 a.m. and updated at 1:37 p.m.