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The ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday accused the Obama administration of covering up the true nature of last year’s fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, amplifying yet another political proxy battle between the White House and Republicans.
James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma said his panel would focus on the military’s response to the assault. But, he said, “as bad as everything that I’ve stated is, what I think is worse is the cover-up.”
“It was obvious from the information we had on Sept. 11 that the second wave ... of attacks on the annex was unequivocally a terrorist attack, and we knew it right at the time,” he said, accusing the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, of lying to the American people.
Inhofe’s comments — along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accusing the nation’s top military officer of making false statements —represented the latest escalation of charges surrounding the attack that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. GOP lawmakers warned their probing of the Benghazi imbroglio would not soon end.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., pushed back against the GOP’s criticism, saying the emphasis on the dissemination of information after the attack was, while relevant, not as relevant as understanding why the attacks occurred, bringing the attackers to justice and preventing further attacks.
Levin said during a hearing on the attacks with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, that the committee would carefully oversee the use of U.S. Marines in protecting diplomatic missions.
“Unfortunately, to date, much of the discourse about the events surrounding the deadly attack against our facilities in Benghazi have focused on the preparation and dissemination of unclassified talking points that were prepared — at the request of Congress — by our nation’s intelligence professionals and approved by their most senior leadership,” Levin said.
Undeterred, Inhofe repeated his criticism of Rice who, on the Sunday talk shows after the attacks, described information provided to her by the U.S. intelligence community.
“Despite this clear evidence, it took this administration over a week to publicly admit what many of us already knew — that it was a terrorist attack, not simply a protest that turned violent as Ambassador Susan Rice adamantly and incorrectly insisted,” Inhofe said, adding that the attack called into question the entire U.S. military strategy in North Africa.
Inhofe noted that there were several attacks in the region against U.S., U.N. and British assets leading up to the attack in Benghazi.