Official: Obama didn't call Libya's president on night of attack

President Obama did not call his Libyan counterpart the night of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told lawmakers.

Instead, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called President Mohammed Magariaf on Obama's behalf that night “to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya and access to Libyan territory,” Ruemmler wrote in a letter dated Thursday. The president then called Magariaf the next evening.

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Ruemmler sent the letter to three Republican senators — John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) — after they sent him a letter earlier this week asking whether “during the eight hours the U.S. mission was under attack” he “personally [spoke] with any officials in the Libyan government to request assistance for our American personnel.” 

Republican lawmakers have threatened holds on Obama's nominees for secretary of Defense and CIA director if they don't get more answers about the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.

"The president was virtually disengaged" from "an attack you could see coming," Graham told reporters Thursday at a press conference alongside McCain and Ayotte.

Graham called the response a "breakdown in national security" and said that if Obama had called the embassy in Tripoli or anyone else in Libya that night, "it could have made a difference."

McCain said the administration has been "stonewalling" Congress, while Ayotte bemoaned the fact that there were no U.S. air assets nearby despite warnings about the deteriorating security situation from the departments of State and Defense.

Ruemmler's letter defended the Obama administration's response to the attack.

“This intensive response, which was directed by the President, included 13 meetings of interagency Principals and Deputies within a week of the attack and involved continuous outreach by senior administration officials to the Government of Libya, including by the President and members of his Cabinet.”

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the latest letter should put to rest Republicans' concerns. He called on Republicans to allow for a vote on former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) nomination to be secretary of Defense.

“Several of my Republican colleagues sent a letter to the administration yesterday requesting additional information on the Sept. 11 attack on an American facility in Benghazi," Reid said. "These Republican colleagues said they would not allow a vote on Sen. Hagel’s nomination to proceed unless the administration honored their request. The administration responded to that letter yesterday. 

"I, along with several of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, received a copy of the letter at 4 p.m. But now Republicans say this is not enough and are moving the goal posts at the last minute. This is no way to operate.”

Carlo Muñoz contributed.

This story was updated at 5:23 p.m.