The top U.S. House Armed Services Committee Republican, in a sharply worded Oct. 29 letter, told President Barack Obama that his recounting of the events around a deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya sounds “implausible.”
That charge came in a letter from Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., to Obama. It is the latest criticism congressional Republicans have launched at Obama or his top Cabinet officials about their handling of a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
McKeon’s letter was sent in response to comments made Oct. 26 by Obama during a radio interview. The president said that in the immediate wake of the attack he issued several directives, including one to “make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.”
That is puzzling to McKeon and other GOP lawmakers, who are questioning why the administration did not use U.S. military assets to secure the consulate in Benghazi. The attack, an apparent terrorist strike, left the American ambassador and three others dead.
“Your ... directive would appear to involve potential actions by the U.S. military,” McKeon wrote.
“There appears to be a discrepancy between your directive and the actions taken by the Department of Defense. As we are painfully aware, despite the fact that the military had resources in the area, the military did not deploy any assets to secure U.S. personnel in Benghazi during the hours the consulate and the annex were under attack,” the HASC chairman wrote.
“I find it implausible that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander of U.S. Africa Command and the commander of U.S. European Command would have ignored a direct order from the commander in chief,” the letter states.
McKeon added a number of questions to others requested by GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Specifically, McKeon asked Obama to shed light on “to whom did you issue this first directive and how was this directive communicated to the military and other agencies — verbally or in writing?” The HASC chairman also wants to know if Obama on that day directed the military to “move available assets into Libya” and if he gave military commanders authority to “take any and all necessary measures to secure U.S. personnel, including specifically the authority to enter Libyan airspace.”
McKeon also wants information about the kinds of communications Obama might — or might not — have had that day with senior Pentagon officials.
“If so, could you please describe any recommendations provided to you regarding available military support and any orders you gave to them?” McKeon asked in the letter.
The letter was released several hours after a television interview with Obama aired in which he said responsibility for the attack lies on his own shoulders. During that interview, Obama vowed to punish anyone inside the U.S. government who “didn’t do their job.”
“The truth is that across the board, when this happened, my No. 1 priority was, secure Americans, figure out what happened, bring those folks to justice,” Obama said. “We are in the process of doing that right now.”
Republican lawmakers have been criticizing Obama and his team for weeks over the administration’s handling of the incident. GOP lawmakers such as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Graham and McKeon are alleging the Obama administration knew there was a strong possibility of an attack weeks before the Sept. 11 incident.
McCain and McKeon have accused the administration of orchestrating a cover-up. Obama did not disclose during the interview any new information about how things played out, but he made two promises.
“What my attitude on this is, if we find out that there was a big breakdown, and somebody didn’t do their job, they’ll be held accountable,” Obama said. “Ultimately, as commander in chief, I’m responsible, and I don’t shy away from that responsibility. My No. 1 responsibility is to go after the folks who did this, and we’re going to make sure we get them.”