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State Department officials: Facts held back about Benghazi attack

Three State Department officials provided a riveting, emotional account of last year’s fatal attack on U.S. installations in eastern Libya yesterday as they charged senior government officials with withholding embarrassing facts and failing to take enough responsibility for security lapses.

The testimony provided new details on the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on U.S. installations in Benghazi and their aftermath. But the new information failed to break the political logjam the attacks spawned, with Republicans and Democrats offering starkly different interpretations of what happened and who within the U.S. government is to blame.

Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, opened the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing by saying that panel Democrats had “mostly sat silent” while Republicans tried to wrest the truth from an uncooperative Obama administration.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the committee, countered that Issa’s GOP majority had launched a “full-scale media campaign . . . of unfounded accusations to smear public

But in expanding the narrative of the intensely politicized episode, the witnesses raised fresh questions about whether then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her deputies were sufficiently engaged in assessing the security posture of diplomatic posts last year.

Speaking before the Republican-led congressional panel, they also reiterated criticism of the Obama administration’s initial reluctance to describe the attacks as premeditated terrorist acts. The move hindered the FBI’s probe into the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the former deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Libya charged.

“It negatively affected our ability to get the FBI team quickly to Benghazi,” foreign service officer Gregory Hicks said, explaining that the account contradicted the Libyan president’s assertion that the Americans had been killed in a terrorist attack. President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf was “insulted in front of his own people. His credibility was reduced. His ability to lead his country was damaged,” Hicks said.

Clinton and her senior aides should have paid more attention to deteriorating security in Libya over the months preceding the attack, along with requests from the post for additional resources, said Eric Nordstrom, who served as the embassy’s security chief until July.

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