Two State Department officials confirmed late Tuesday that there were no signs of unrest near the Libyan embassy prior to the Sept. 11 attack that killed ambassador Christopher Stevens, flatly contradicting weeks of claims by Obama administration officials just a day before a major Congressional hearing on the matter.
Administration officials, including ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, repeatedly claimed after the incident that an anti-Islam film by a mysterious Florida filmmaker had inspired mob violence near the Benghazi embassy, which supposedly led to Stevens’ brutal assassination.
“Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy – sparked by this hateful video,” Rice said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that – in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent … We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
Rice reiterated the claim on “Fox News Sunday” and again on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
But at Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the administration’s response to the attack, officials and representatives will hear a very different story.
“The ambassador walked guests out at 8:30 or so; there was nobody on the street,” an senior official in the State Department said Tuesday. “Then at 9:40 they saw on the security cameras that there were armed men invading the compound. Everything is calm at 8:30 pm, there is nothing unusual. There had been nothing unusual during the day outside.”
Concerns that the Obama administration deliberately mislead the public in order to portray the deadly Benghazi attack as the result of the anti-Islam film, rather than a failure of the president’s foreign policy, have prompted several Republican senators, including John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, to send a letter to Rice demanding an explanation for her “troubling” and “inconsistent” statements on the Benghazi attack.
However, Rice, who has been heavily critical of the administration of former President George W. Bush, has proved reluctant to acknowledge that her statements were inaccurate. Instead, she has stated that her remarks were based on the information she had available at the time.
“Most Americans do understand we went through a period some years back in which American leadership was judged quite critically by those, internationally,” Rice told Time magazine this summer. “That has changed, to a substantial extent, and I think most Americans are aware that by almost any objective measure, the United States is viewed more favorably today, than it was three, four years ago.”
President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will debate foreign policy at the next presidential debate.