Partisan rancor took center stage Wednesday at a hearing by US lawmakers to examine security measures in the run-up to last month’s deadly attack on an American diplomatic compound by armed militants in Benghazi, Libya.
During the hearing by the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republican lawmakers grilled US State Department officials about whether there was a failure to adequately protect the compound from the September 11 attack that left US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others dead.
"We know that it was caused by a terrorist attack that was reasonably predictable to eventually happen somewhere in the world, especially on September 11,” said Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who chaired the hearing. “Requests for extensions for more security in Libya appear to have often been rejected."
Democratic members of the committee, meanwhile, suggested Republican budget cuts had left the US government with insufficient resources to protect its envoys abroad.
Committee members from both political parties insisted they were interested in bipartisan cooperation during the hearing, which was held with less than a month remaining before the US presidential election.
One high-ranking Democratic aide told NBC News, however, that he had never seen a “more one-sided investigation.”
Republican challenger Mitt Romney has repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of mishandling the security situation for US personnel in Libya, and Republican lawmakers echoed those criticisms Wednesday.
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, the former head of a 16-member security team stationed in Libya, testified at Wednesday’s hearing that diplomatic security in the country was weak.
The US regional security officer in Libya “struggled to obtain additional personnel there but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with,” Wood testified.
The State Department official charged with overseeing diplomatic security in Libya, however, testified that additional security measures would not have made a significant difference in fending off the attackers.
“I had not seen an attack of such ferocity and intensity previously in Libya nor in my time with the Diplomatic Security Service,” the official, Eric Nordstrom, said in his testimony.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not testify on Wednesday, but two high level department officials did appear.
Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security, testified before the hearing, as did Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary for management.
Republican lawmakers questioned both officials aggressively about whether they failed to deliver adequate security to the compound, though both Lamb and Kennedy defended their work.
Issa and other Republicans used the hearing to voice concerns over apparent discrepancies between the Obama administration’s initial version of the events surrounding the attack and the account now being given by the State Department.
Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, initially said the attack came amid protests against a YouTube video defaming Islam. But an account relayed to the media this week by a State Department official does not indicate there were any such protests.
Kennedy defended the administration’s approach in delivering information about the attack to the public.
“No one in the administration has claimed to know all the answers,” Kennedy said in his testimony. “We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved.”