WASHINGTON -- A top Republican senator on a committee investigating the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, said Wednesday that intelligence officials had testified that they knew right away that it was a terrorist attack, undercutting the Obama administration's claim to have had a mix of reports during that first week.
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is widely expected to become the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next year, told reporters that in a closed-door session of the committee on Tuesday afternoon, intelligence officials said that they "let everybody know immediately" what they knew.
He described the Democrats sitting on the committee as being startled by the testimony.
"I could tell they were shocked," he said, before rethinking his word choice. "What's the right word? Quizzical."
The Obama administration has come under intense criticism for the confusing array of rationales it has offered for the attacks, describing it at first as part of a series of "acts of terror," then later insisting that it was more likely related to an anti-Islam video that had prompted protests at other embassies in the Arab world.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who is thought to be a likely nominee for Obama's secretary of state in the second term, was among those most prominently putting forward this version of events.
Officials later conceded that this was incorrect, and blamed a series of intelligence community "talking points" that had guided some key figures' public remarks in the week after the attack.
Corker said, however, that in his assessment even this is not fully accurate.
"Let me tell you, there's talking sheets that are like baby padlum or whatever, and then there are people who are actually competent folks who are semi in the loop," he said. "Anybody who was anywhere near in the loop knew this was a terrorist attack."
Corker also praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being "incredibly transparent" with the committee over the course of several conversations.
"That has been very refreshing, if you want to know the truth," he said.