By Chris Casteel
Rep. James Lankford criticized the Obama administration again Wednesday over its public statements shortly after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, suggesting senior officials deliberately told misleading stories.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said recently released emails show the administration knew the night of the attack that a militant Libyan group claimed credit on Facebook for killing a U.S. ambassador and three other American diplomats.
"We keep getting more evidence that senior officials in the State Department and White House had access to the real-time facts on the ground and yet reported several different stories to the American people," Lankford said in a statement.
"Which senior official was in charge of telling the American people the truth? It is now apparent that the first report of a terrorist attack in Benghazi was later changed by someone before it was reported to the American people."
Days after the attack, White House press secretary Jay Carney and Ambassador Susan Rice were still suggesting the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others resulted from a protest over an anti-Islam video, Lankford said.
"In times of crisis, we need clarity from our senior officials and the White House, not speculation and misstatements," Lankford said.
Carney told reporters on Wednesday that the email referenced by Lankford was "an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note, I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That's why there's an investigation under way." And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, "You know, posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued some time to be."
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that it had obtained three emails sent by the State Department as events unfolded at the consulate. One email, sent two hours after the attack began, reported that the group Ansar-al-Sharia had claimed responsibility.
Lankford was among the members of a U.S. House committee that questioned State Department officials at a hearing this month about the events.
"State Department testimony at our oversight hearing on Oct. 10 shed much-needed light on the security decisions leading up to Sept. 11, 2012," Lankford said. "But, it is unacceptable that we still have different versions of the truth coming to light surrounding the deaths of four Americans."
Clinton has appointed a review board to investigate the attack and said, "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders."