House Intelligence Committee members took to "Fox News Sunday" to question an extensive New York Times report on the 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, saying the newspaper was wrong to suggest al-Qaeda had no involvement.
"What did they get wrong?" host Chris Wallace asked Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"That al-Qaeda was not involved in this," Rogers replied. "There was some level of pre-planning; we know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya; we know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound -- this is the compound before they went to the annex. All of that would directly contradict what The New York Times definitively says was an exhaustive investigation."
On Saturday, The New York Times published the result of its lengthy investigation into the Benghazi attack -- the attack that has led to harsh criticism by Republicans over the Obama administration's response. The Times reported that some of the GOP's claims about what happened in Benghazi are likely inaccurate, or at least more complicated than Republicans have made them out to be. In particular, the Times report found through interviews that there is no evidence al-Qaeda was involved. The report also called into question GOP claims that an American-made anti-Muslim video had nothing to do with the attack. White House officials had said that it provided part of the spark for the incident.
Rogers said that his committee has also done an "exhaustive investigation" into what happened in Benghazi, including going through 4,000 classified cables, and that the committee's findings were very different from those of the Times.
"It tells me they didn't talk to the people on the ground who were doing the fighting and shooting and the intelligence gathering," Rogers said. "When you put that volume of information, I think it proves that story is just not accurate."
Wallace also asked Rogers whether he thought there was a political motive for the White House's statements on Benghazi, pointing to speculation that the aim was to "clear the deck" for a presidential run in 2016 by Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack.
"I find the timing odd," Rogers said. "I don't want to speculate on why they might do it, but I can tell you that the information that's being presented in a way that we heard before ... through the [committee] investigation [we] have been able to determine [it] is not accurate in its portrayal."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also a member of the intelligence committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" said the New York Times report added value, but that the newspaper did not have the level of information the intelligence committee had.
"I don't think the New York Times report is designed to exonerate the security lapses within the State Department that left our people vulnerable," Schiff said. "I do think it adds some valuable insights. I agree with Mike [Rogers] that, however, the intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda was involved. But there are also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al-Qaeda that were involved."
"I think the intelligence paints a portrait that some people came to murder, some came to destroy property, some merely came to loot, and some came in part motivated by those videos," Schiff continued. "So it is a complex picture."
UPDATE: 12:15 p.m. -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), another fierce critic of the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attack, was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" to respond to the New York Times story.
Although he said The New York Times "did some very good work," the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform questioned the story's assertion that the attack was largely fueled by anger about the anti-Muslim video cited in early administration comments.
“We have seen no evidence that the video was widely seen in Benghazi, a very isolated area, or that it was a leading cause," Issa said. "What we do know is that September 11 [the date of the 2012 attack] was not an accident. These are terrorist groups, some of them linked to or ... self-claimed as al-Qaeda linked. ... Before I go on, I wanted to make a very good point that [reporter David D. Kirkpatrick] put out. Look, it is not about al-Qaeda as the only terrorist organization."
"Meet the Press" host David Gregory pointed out that Issa had repeatedly contended that al-Qaeda was behind the attack but that President Obama did not want to acknowledge it for political reasons.
"There was a group there that was involved that's linked to al-Qaeda," Issa replied. "What we never said -- and I didn't have security look behind the door, that's for other members of Congress. ... Those sources and methods I've never claimed. What I have claimed, and rightfully so, is Ambassador Stevens [who was killed in the attack] and others alerted, well in advance, that they had a security threat."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
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