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Obama administration on defense over Benghazi attack, al-Qaida resurgence

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 11:16 a.m. MDT

The administration\'s handling of the events leading up to it and its aftermath came under sharp scrutiny on Wednesday. (Shutterstock.com) The administration\'s handling of the events leading up to it and its aftermath came under sharp scrutiny on Wednesday. (Shutterstock.com)

Wednesday marked a dramatic shift in both the personal and policy sides of the Libyan embassy debacle and the administration's response, with growing emphasis on the planned character of the attack, its execution on the anniversary of 9/11, and the likely role of al-Qaida in executing it.

The day also produced some corollary insights into the growth of al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The net effect of recent developments calls into question the administration's narrative that al-Qaida is on the run, as well as casting further doubt on initial efforts to blame the Benghazi attack on a video.

The day began with ABC's Jake Tapper grilling White House spokesman Jay Carney over the administration's story on Afghanistan.

Tapper noted that the State Department on Tuesday declared that it had never endorsed the story that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was sparked by riots protesting an anti-Islamic video, despite the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Carney himself and even the president had repeatedly blamed the video for the attack.

Tapper pressed Carney repeatedly on the contradiction, and then asked, "Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack on Benghazi, that there wasn't even a protest outside the Benghazi post, didn't President Obama shoot first and aim later?"

Across town, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa aggressively grilled Deputy Assistant Director for International Programs Charlene Lamb, who apparently made the decision not to send additional security forces to Libya, when officials on the ground requested that support as early as July 9.

Issa ripped Lamb for bureaurcratic dithering in the face of repeated requests for support and warnings in cables to the State Department that "Al Queda type organizations are coming together," along with an attack on the embassy "less than sixty days before the murder of the ambassador in that facility."

Democrats on the committee sought to portray the events as resulting from budget cuts supported by Republicans, but Tapper reported that Lamb was asked directly if budgetary concerns had any influence on her decision, and she said, "No."

Also on Wednesday, Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, was interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper. Smith spoke at length of her frustrations in getting straight answers from the White House on how her son died.

"They haven't told me anything. They are still 'studying it.' And the things they have told are just outright lies," Smith told Cooper.

"Susan Rice, she spoke to me personally, and said, 'This is the way it was. It was because of this film that came out.’ ”

She describes meeting with multiple administration officials, including the president, all of whom blamed the film. "The all did," she said.

"I cried on Obama's shoulder. And then he kind of looked off into the distance. So that was worthless to me," she said.

Wednesday also saw video surface from "60 Minutes" reporter Lara Logan at the Better Govenrment Association luncheon in Chicago.

Logan gave an impassioned and blunt denunciation of the administration's effort to downplay the growth of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and its tight connection to the Taliban. Logan describes doggedly trying to get military and administration officials to speak about the problem, and getting stonewalled.

"We went to anyone who could possibly know about this, and we kept hearing the same thing," Logan said. "There is no political reason for anyone to be talking to you about this right now. If we talk about al-Qaida in Afghanistan, doesn't that undermine the argument for leaving? That was really a problem for us. At one point, we even had in writing from the U.S. military that al-Qaida in Afghanistan was off the table."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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