The Obama administration is sticking to its position that Tuesday's deadly attack in Benghazi wasn't premeditated, contradicting U.S. lawmakers and Libya's own president.
Speaking on several Sunday shows, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice placed the blame for violence that has spread to two dozen countries across the Muslim world squarely on a U.S.-made anti-Islam video.
Republicans and many others are dubious, with some lawmakers suggesting the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi was a coordinated attack by a militant group.
“There's no question that as we've seen in the past with things like [Salman Rushdie's] Satanic Verses, with the [Danish] cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger, and this has been the proximate cause of what we've seen,” Rice said on Fox News Sunday. “We are of the view that this is not an expression of hostility in the broader sense toward the United States or U.S. policy. It's proximately a reaction to this video.”
Rice pushed back against Republican critics who say U.S. foes have been emboldened by Obama's policies in the region. She called Egypt's initial efforts to protect the U.S. embassy in Cairo “not sufficiently robust,” but said things changed after Obama called the Egyptian president Wednesday evening.
“When President Obama picked up the phone and spoke to President [Mohammed] Morsi, right away things changed,” Rice said. “And that's evidence of our influence and our impact.”
Libya's own leader, interim president Mohammed Magarief, has said that foreigners infiltrated Libya over the past few months and planned the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Magarief told NPR in Benghazi on Sunday. “We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate.
“The intention was there from the beginning, for it to take this ugly barbaric, criminal form,” he said.
Magarief doubled down in an interview with CBS's Face the Nation a few hours later.
He told CBS that about 50 people have been arrested in conjunction with the attack on the U.S. consulate, which he said was “definitely planned by foreigners” who entered Libya several months ago and immediately started plotting the assault. He said “a few” of the perpetrators were from Mali and Algeria while others were Libyan “affiliates” and “sympathizers.”
“These ugly deeds, criminal deeds … do not represent in any way, in any sense, the aspirations and feelings of Libya toward the United States and its citizens.”
“The way these perpetrators acted and moved and their choosing the specific date [of Sept. 11] for this so-called demonstration, I think this leaves us with no doubt that this was pre-planned, pre-determined.”
Magarief said the security situation “is difficult, not only for Americans but for Libyans themselves.”
“We don't know what are the real intentions of these perpetrators,” he said. “But there is no specific particular concern or danger for Americans or any other foreigners.”
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain blasts Graham for refuting funeral remark about Kushner, Ivanka Trump Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CBS he didn't buy the notion that the attack in Libya was spontaneous.
“Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” McCain said. “That was an act of terror. And for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignorant of the facts.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI official, told Fox News the violence in Libya had “all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda-style attack.”
He said the nature of the coordinated attack and the fact that it came on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks raised many questions.
“And there's other information, classified information, that we have that just makes you stop for a minute and pause,” Rogers said.
He said the administration is making a mistake by focusing too narrowly on the anti-Islam film.
“I think this is a convenient effort by all of the groups who have other ulterior motives,” he said. “We know that al Qaeda is clearly trying to use this to incite violence. This is a mechanism for them to do what they have been trying to do all along.”
He also said the Obama administration's policies were to blame for the wave of violent protests.
“The countries of the Middle East believe that there's a disengagement policy by the United States. And that lack of leadership there, or at least clarity on what our position is, is causing problems,” Rogers said. “If we all decide to rally around the video as the problem, we are going to make a serious mistake... if we think that's the only reason people are showing up at our embassy and trying to conduct acts of violence.”
He also said Congress could start by putting more conditions on aid to countries like Egypt, which gets $1.3 billion in military aid a year.
“We shouldn't just give the money and hope for the best. That's not going to work,” he said. “It's our money – it's taxpayer money – and we ought to say 'here's what we really want to have happen'.”
On Sunday, Ambassador Rice also said there was “no daylight” between the United States and Israel over preventing Iran's nuclear program, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vocal concerns this past week that the Obama administration hasn't identified “red lines” Iran won't be allowed to cross.
“We have no daylight between us on the issue of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Rice said. “That is our clear bottom line, and the president could not be any plainer about that.”
This story was published at 10:34 and has been updated.