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

Republican lawmakers left a closed-door briefing with Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms Special counsel issues rare statement disputing explosive Cohen report MORE 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 FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresRep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman GOP approves rule for Don Young Texas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage MORE (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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE (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 RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE (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 FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MORE (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