The controversy over the September 2012 attack against an American consulate in Benghazi reached a fever pitch over the weekend, with Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) even threatening to impeach President Obama for covering up the U.S.’s failure to protect its diplomats.
“They knew that it was a cover-up at that time, the time that it happened,” Inhofe said Saturday. “People may be starting to use the I-word before too long.”
On Monday, Obama responded to the charge that he hid information on the attacks as a “political circus” and called the controversy over administration talking points a “side show.”
“We've now seen this argument that’s been made by some folks, primarily up on the Hill, for months now,” Obama said during a joint press conference held with British Prime Minister David Cameron. “There’s no ‘there-there’ .”
The political back and forth shows no signs of ending. Republicans have made attacking the issue a top priority, threatening to derail Obama’s second term agenda.
For many people in the administration, there are lingering questions about their roles during the attack and in the immediate aftermath. The people below are likely to be key players in how the next phases of the controversy will unfold:
Little is known about the president’s role in giving the stand-down order that stopped U.S. Special Forces from being deployed to Libya the day of the attack. The White House released a picture of Obama conferring with former National Security Adviser Denis McDonough on the night of the attack.
But Republicans are demanding to know whether the president knew al Qaeda terrorists staged the attack when Susan Rice said otherwise on national television, and just how much the president was involved in decisions regarding the lack of U.S. response.
Hillary Clinton: As Secretary of State, Clinton took responsibility for the lives lost during the attacks but forcefully rebutted claims that the administration failed to respond. An independent review of the Obama administration’s response absolved her of any wrongdoing. But as her popularity has surged in recent months, making her a top contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket, Republican lawmakers have placed a new target on Clinton’s back. As new information has emerged, they’re raising questions about whether she participated in a cover up of those responsible, and whether she did enough to protect American diplomats’ lives.
Susan Rice: Rice’s assertion that an anti-Muslim video was the motivation behind the attack is at the heart of the controversy. Republicans are accusing Rice and the White House of dismissing a terrorist connection to the attack to avoid a political issue before the election. Rice hasn’t commented on Benghazi since the talking point emails emerged last week. She could shed light on just what the administration was trying to convey and whether her message pointed attention away from groups connected to al Qaeda.
The former CIA chief called the final talking points debated by the White House essentially useless, according to news reports. But he’s said little more on the attacks, raising an important question: Was the Benghazi outpost a front for CIA spies? A November Wall Street Journal report found that of the more than 30 employees at the compound, less than 10 worked for the State Department. The rest worked for the CIA. Was the alleged cover-up just an attempt to keep clandestine operations out of the public’s view? Petraeus could fill in the blanks.
Benghazi is gaining traction with the news media, but new polls suggest the public is indifferent to the issue at this point. A new survey by Public Polling International found that just 38 percent of people think Benghazi should be a congressional priority right now, compared to 56 percent who think attention should be focused elsewhere. Forty-nine percent of people trust Hillary Clinton’s version of events, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Republicans are wasting time and political capital if the investigation doesn’t go anywhere or fails to help them at the polls.