Some Republicans came away from intelligence briefings Thursday more convinced than ever t the Obama administration lied to the American people about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and then tried to cover it up.
Speaking to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren Thursday night, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was certain the account offered by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attack "was a lie."
He said the administration knew, based on initial intelligence reports, the attack was carried out by an extremist Islamic group with ties to al-Qaida and not, as Rice claimed on Sunday talk shows, a violent reaction to an anti-Islam video posted on YouTube.
"They knew within a matter of hours, if not right away, that this was an organized, armed hit job by al-Qaida, probably, but an organized, commanded effort to murder our people," Rohrabacher charged, dismissing Rice's assertion that "movie rage," as the congressman put it, was the catalyst behind the attack.
"That was a lie. They knew it was lie when they said it," the California Republican said. "When they sent out Ambassador Rice to all the talk shows, they knew that was not the truth. When you tell something that's not the truth to the American people, especially in the middle of a crisis, they shouldn't expect to get away with it and be forgiven."
Rohrabacher also said it was inexcusable for the president to continue to blame the attack on movie rage when he spoke to the United Nations on Sept. 25 rather than admit that al-Qaida may have been responsible and was on the rise again.
"People throughout the administration were talking about movie rage when they knew damn well, or at least the White House and the CIA knew damn well, that this was an al-Qaida attack," he said.
Rohrabacher's comments were echoed to a degree by Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King of New York, both of whom appeared on Fox News's Sean Hannity show.
The two attended a closed door briefing Thursday by CIA officials, who King said gave the administration "talking points" shortly after the attack acknowledging that terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaida were involved.
Those points were sent out to the White House and other government departments for comment, but King said when they came back to the CIA references to a terrorist assault and al-Qaida had been omitted.
Asked if he thought the president had intentionally lied to the American people about Benghazi, King said, "I don't want to go to that step, yet."
But he added, "It is clear that somebody in the White House had to change those talking points. Because the intelligence community said [in the Thursday briefings] they sent them out with a clear reference to al Qaeda. And . . . as they said, when it came back to [them], that was no longer in the talking points."
Asked who that somebody might be, Heck said, "I think that the only person who can answer that question is the president. We need to know what he knew and when he knew it as far as how this incident evolved.
"We owe it to the American public and we certainly owe it to the families of the four who were lost," Heck added.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also weighed in on the administration's initial depiction of the attack as a video-related protest that turned violent, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"I think, without question, they knew immediately this was a terrorist attack," he said Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"There wasn't any question about that."
But he said Rice was "just repeating what she was told" from the talking points given her by the White House when she said it was an angry reaction to the YouTube video.
"Why the White House didn't come out and say that immediately, I don't know." Chambliss said.
But he added that he thought "there was some politics involved in the message that the White House wanted to send."
Asked if he thought Rice had intentionally lied, Chambliss said, "I'm not saying she lied. I'm just saying she put a softer touch on what the real facts were.
"That's not lying. She just didn't say, 'Look this is a terrorist attack, somebody screwed up and we've got to get to the bottom of it.' That's where we were two days later not five days later."
But Chambliss said it is clear the White House knew more when Rice appeared on the Sunday talk shows after the attack than "what was being talked about."
"I think the American people would have been better served and they would have a better feeling about what happened in Benghazi if the White House had just been forthcoming very quickly," he added.
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