Clinton fails to convince Republicans on administration's account of Libya attack

Republican lawmakers left a closed-door briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials on Thursday still unconvinced by the administration's assessment that last week's attack that killed four Americans in Libya wasn't a premeditated act of terrorism.

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“They're trying to cover their behinds,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) told The Hill upon leaving the House briefing with Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Asked if they were successful, he said: “No.”

On the Senate side, things were no different according to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) “That is the most useless worthless briefing I have attended in a long time,” shortly after the administration officials made their case to the upper chamber. 

“I really think they hurt themselves tremendously from the standpoint of trying to build trust," he told reporters. “It, if anything, built far greater distrust in what’s happening than in answering questions. It was pretty unbelievable.”

For his part, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the information provided to lawmakers on Thursday was nothing new and that lack of information has become a trend with the White House. 

"From this administration, I have never gotten information that I have not seen or heard before," McCain said. Including Thursday's Libya briefing, the White House has maintained "a perfect record" in that regard, he added.

Republicans for the past week have been assailing the Obama administration's position the consulate attack was not a coordinated strike, but a protest in reaction to a U.S-made anti-Islam video on YouTube that turned violent. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice first made the remarks on the Sunday news shows over the weekend, basing her comments on the initial intelligence available.

The administration has since started to call the attack an act of terrorism, but continues to argue it was unplanned. Clinton and the other officials briefed all House and Senate members for the first time Thursday.

“I believe that it's really a stretch — a long stretch — to believe that all of this by coincidence happened on 9/11,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told The Hill after the briefing. He said his opinion hasn't changed, “even though that's not necessarily what they're telling me.”

But Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters it was clear what happened in Benghazi last Tuesday. 

It was a “planned, premeditated attack,” he said. “It's pretty obvious [Stevens] did not have adequate security,” he added.

The administration's previous claims the attack was simply a protest gone horribly wrong and current argument the attack was unplanned simply "sets our efforts back" to address al Qaeda's growing influence in Libya, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added. 

But not all Republicans were as willing to chastise the administration's lack of disclosure during Thursday's briefings. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought it was a good briefing.

“I would disagree,” Lugar said when asked about complaints from other lawmakers. “I felt it was very comprehensive.”

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also defended the level of information the administration gave to lawmakers.

“I feel that we received a briefing that was comprehensive,” Feinstein told reporters. 

“I don’t believe they were holding back. I think they said what they knew," she added. "They’re very concerned and they want to do this right and put the evidence together and make the case that will stand.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who helped write the Embassy Security Act after the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, said he was confident the truth would come out — even if it's after the election. Clinton announced Thursday that retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering has been selected to lead an independent investigation into the Libya attack, which is due to Congress within 60 days.


“We still don't know how long it took them to put this whole attack together, does it comport with a timeline of when the movie came out ... so we're still in the learning stage,” he said. “I always want to trust but verify.”

—Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb contributed.

--This story was updated at 6:36pm