WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama lashed out Monday at the Republican investigation of last year’s terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, denouncing questions about administration talking points as a “sideshow” and accusing Republicans of using the “political circus” to raise cash.
The Republicans showed no sign of letting up. They announced that they will privately interview – in preparation for a public hearing – retired Amb. Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen about whether an internal State Department review they oversaw was incomplete and failed to hold senior officials accountable for security failings in Benghazi.
Obama made his remarks at a news conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron. They were his first since a GOP-led House of Representatives hearing reignited charges last week that the administration bungled the response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, tried to cover up its missteps and misled the public about the involvement of al Qaida-linked extremists.
“The fact that this keeps getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations,” said Obama. He asserted that Republicans have unjustly tarred then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is the early 2016 presidential race favorite, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who was dropped from consideration as Clinton’s successor, as well as Pickering and Mullen, the former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff.
“We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity,” said Obama. “It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks. They’ve used it for fund-raising.”
He apparently was referring to an online National Republican Congressional Committee fund-raising appeal that pictures Clinton and Obama and says “Benghazi Was a Coverup.” Also, American Crossroads, a political action committee founded by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, on Sunday began airing its first televised attack ad for the 2016 campaign, accusing Clinton of a taking part in a coverup of the assaults that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The Republicans also are showing disrespect for State Department personnel who “consistently” volunteer for assignments in hazardous parts of the globe, Obama said, adding, “We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.”
Obama acknowledged that U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya were not adequately protected as chaos and violence grew in the aftermath of the 2011 overthrow of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department communications specialist, died when armed Islamists, some linked to al Qaida, stormed the poorly guarded compound that temporarily housed the U.S. consulate in Libya’s second largest city. Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, former Navy SEALs working as CIA security guards, died the next morning from a mortar shell fired at a CIA annex where survivors of the consulate assault were taken.
The investigation by five Republican-run House committees has focused to a large extent on administration talking points that critics charge were deliberately skewed to hide the fact that the attacks were organized by al Qaida-linked militants as Obama ran for re-election in part on his counterterrorism record.