As we approach two months since the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a growing list of questions about the Obama White House's handling of the tragedy remains unanswered. Most troubling, as more details of the attack emerge in the media, the administration appears to be stonewalling Congress's repeated requests for explanations.
For a president who claims to have been a constitutional law professor, he demonstrates either a shocking ignorance of Congress's constitutionally-mandated oversight role, or an alarming disregard for it. According to published reports, at least a half dozen Congressional inquiries about the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi have been ignored by the White House. Letters from House and Senate members, including House Speaker John Boehner, have been met with official silence from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Because of the administration's official foot-dragging, Congress and the American people have had to rely on media reports -- often based upon leaked information -- to learn what happened. In one such report, sources claimed that CIA officials based near the consulate were ordered to "stand down" and not respond to the attack. Late last week, senior intelligence officials who requested anonymity leaked a timeline of events that supports claims that the administration was directly involved in responding to the attack on our consulate.
The fog of uncertainty that surrounded the September 11, 2012, attack that left four U.S. citizens dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, has been equaled by a fog of confusion in Washington as the Obama administration ducks and obfuscates its responsibility to respond to Congress. Bureaucratic infighting of this kind between the CIA, the State Department, and others is further evidence of a lack of presidential leadership.
From the beginning, the White House has attempted to either downplay or avoid revealing the true details of the Benghazi attack. First, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice suggested in four separate television interviews that the attack on our consulate was likely inspired by an on-line video critical of the prophet Mohammed and not part of a coordinated terror attack. Later, when presented with clear evidence to the contrary, administration officials conceded the attack was apparently planned. Administration claims that the nature of the attack was uncertain have also conflicted with reports that U.S. officials were monitoring the attacks in real time with the help of at least one unmanned aerial vehicle.
Last month, senior State Department officials told Congress that requests for additional security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi prior to September 11, 2012, were denied. Nearly a month before the attack, administration officials were reportedly aware that the consulate was vulnerable. Furthermore, according to leaked cables, they were informed of the existence of several Islamist militias and Al Qaeda training camps in Benghazi.
Unfortunately, the deliberate refusal of the Obama administration to comply with Congressional requests for information is not new. The Justice Department's unwillingness to fully respond to Congressional committees looking into the failed government-run Operation Fast and Furious, that led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent and thousands of firearms illegally transferred to the hands of Mexican drug gangs, has been well publicized.
Whether inconvenient or politically embarrassing, the Obama White House has a legal obligation to comply with Congressional oversight requests. As long as this administration fails to do so, Congress will continue to pursue answers to the fullest extent of the law.