Several high-level GOP senators emerged from Thursday afternoon's classified briefing with top administration officials incensed that Obama team had offered them no new information and answered none of their questions about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of four Americans.
"That was the most useless, worthless briefing that I have attended in a long time. Believe me, there is more written in every major and minor publication in America about what happened." said Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Corker (R-TN), emerging from the all-senators briefing that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. Sandy Winnefeld. "It was like a one-hour filibuster with absolutely not one single bit of new information being brought forth... very disappointing."
Corker said that the briefing was so poorly received by senators that it would spur Congress to push for more independent investigations about the causes of the attack, the perpetrators, the security at the consulate, and the personal security of Amb. Chris Stevens, who died in the attack.
"[The briefing], if anything, built far greater distrust about what's happening than just answering questions. It was pretty unbelievable," said Corker. "In every event, when a serious question was asked, the answer was, ‘It's under investigation.' If I were them I would not have come to the Hill ... I think it is going to cause folks to push for something different, because it was received so poorly."
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) agreed and said the briefing was indicative of the administration's pattern of not sharing information with Congress about important national security matters. He also said the administration is maintaining its argument that the Benghazi attack was the result of militants taking advantage of protests spurred by an anti-Islam video on the Internet.
"I learned nothing in that briefing that I hadn't seen or read in the media," said McCain. "They still are blaming the video and they have a fundamental misunderstanding. It's not the video; it's the Islamists that are pushing this video throughout the world to inflame passions on the part of people of the Muslim faith."
McCain highlighted recent statements from administration officials acknowledging that the Benghazi incident was a "terrorist attack" and said that while he didn't know exactly how long it had been pre-planned, there was mounting evidence that significant planning did go into the assault.
"It's very likely that there is a terrorist organization, affiliated with al Qaeda, that at least had some role in this attack, which had mortars, heavy equipment, and rocket propelled grenades -- not exactly a spontaneous demonstration," McCain said, citing open source information, not the briefing, which was classified.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Marco Rubio (R-FL) was also critical of the briefing, and said that the situation in Benghazi was materially different from protests last week in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, and other places, where protesters cited the video directly.
"The only demonstrations in Libya have been anti-terrorist demonstrations. Compare Libya to the other countries -- in Libya, there aren't anti-American protests going on there," Rubio said. "We heard on Sunday that this was all the result of a YouTube video; now it's clear that's not the case. [The administration is] not accurately assessing what happened in Libya, and that's not helping anyone."
Democratic senators emerging from the briefing declined to speak with reporters. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier Thursday, "It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," but maintained that there was no specific intelligence pointing to planning by the attackers in advance.
Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns was in Tripoli Thursday and met with Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf, Prime Minister Abdul-Rahim al-Keeb, the new Prime Minister-Elect Mustafa Abushagur, and Foreign Minister Ashour Bin Khayal. Burns also delivered remarks at a memorial service for Stevens and the three other Americans killed.
"Chris would be the first to remind us that dignity, respect, hope, and freedom are powerful words and noble aspirations -- but translating them into reality takes hard work and great sacrifice. That is the responsibility before all Libyans, and before all of us in America and around the world who remain committed to supporting you in this crucial effort. There are formidable tasks ahead: to build democratic institutions to safeguard human rights for every Libyan; to build security institutions to protect your own citizens and the diplomats who serve here; to build an economy which realizes the full potential of all Libyans," he said.
"None of this will be easy. It will take time. There will be more difficult moments along the way. But you have already achieved so much, and so much more is possible. Libyans will have to continue to make hard choices, to live up to your responsibilities, and to ensure that violent extremists don't hijack the promise of your revolution."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.