State Department Denies Connecting Libya Attack to Anti-Islam Video Protest

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Photo: Pool/2012 Getty Images

The attack last month on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, had nothing to do with protests against that offensive, Muslim-mocking YouTube clip, according to a new State Department version of events. The AP reports today on the State Department's "extraordinary break with other administration offices," which said in the days following the violence that extremists had "hijacked" the demonstrations in Benghazi. The incident and its aftermath have become increasingly politicized in the week since, and this latest split only adds fuel to the Republicans' fire, as the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is set to hold a hearing on diplomatic security in Libya today.

Five days after the attack, citing the best information she had at the time, United Nations ambassador Susan Rice tied the violence to the video protests, in line with a CIA memo that said the Benghazi crowds "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo" and "evolved into a direct assault" on the diplomats. But in a briefing yesterday, Hillary Clinton's State Department said they never believed such accounts, with officials blaming "others" in the executive branch for those conclusions.

The division on the official line not only indicates a push for space between Secretary Clinton and Barack Obama, but makes the administration vulnerable to partisan jousting over the matter. The Mitt Romney campaign has insisted it was always skeptical of the original explanation, while Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa questioned the security of diplomats in the region.

Today, the former chief security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, is scheduled to speak to the committee about his requests for more protection. Nordstrom, the AP reports, "said he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March 2012 and July 2012 requesting additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, but he received no responses." The Libyan government was "overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection," he said. "Sadly, that point was reaffirmed on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi."