Washington (CNN) — Thanks to testimony and “real-time” video, lawmakers said they got their clearest picture yet Thursday of the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya, though questions and tensions remain as to how President Barack Obama’s administration handled the matter.
Republicans and Democrats who attended closed-door sessions of the House and Senate intelligence committees described what they heard and saw as informative, albeit not necessarily conclusive. They vowed to keep asking questions, and keep holding hearings, to determine not only how Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died but also whether officials were forthright in the attack’s aftermath.
“A lot of light was shone on this situation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said after a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs. “But we don’t have all the facts yet. We are, in effect, fact-finding.”
Added the committee’s vice chairman, Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, “Were mistakes made? Gosh, we know mistakes were made, and we’ve got to learn from that.”
Legislators saw a “real-time film (showing) exactly what happened” on September 11 in Benghazi, starting before the attack began up “through the incident and the exodus,” said Feinstein. A source familiar with the House committee hearing said the video included shots of Stevens being dragged out of the building. Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, described the footage as “a combination of video from a surveillance camera and a drone.”
“It gave us a good picture, from the surveillance standpoint, what was happening,” Coats said.
Besides learning more about the attack, some Republicans in recent days have focused on comments made by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice days afterward, when she suggested the attack came after a protest against an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States. Several of those Republicans — including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Peter King of New York — have vowed to block any effort to nominate Rice as secretary of state should Hillary Clinton step down.
“What is clear is that this administration, including the president himself, has intentionally misinformed — read that, lied — to the American people in the aftermath of this tragedy,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, a GOP member of the House Foreign Affairs committee that on Thursday convened a panel of experts not directly connected with the Benghazi attack. “The arrogance and dishonesty reflected in all of this is a little bit breathtaking.”
Obama himself has stepped into the fray, saying Wednesday that those who criticize Rice “because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
His comments didn’t appear to dampen GOP criticisms of Rice and, thus, the Obama administration at Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing.
A source familiar with that briefing said one Republican House member “got into it” with acting CIA Director Michael Morrel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about Rice’s comments, challenging why they weren’t as strong as they should have been on whether an extremist element was involved in the attack.