On eve of House hearings, State Department finally admits: No, there was never any protest outside the Benghazi consulate before the attack

If you’ve been following the news about Benghazi, you’ll have two questions after watching this clip. One: Didn’t we already know this? Answer: Yes, “we” did, but not because our government was eager for us to find out. McClatchy published an interview with a Libyan guard wounded in the attack just two days after it happened in which he claimed that there was never any protest. Four days later, Fox News was hearing the same thing from an intelligence source on the ground. Four days after that, Eli Lake of Newsweek reported that there was intelligence early on that the attack was planned and that an Al Qaeda affiliate was involved. Right around the same time, Jay Carney started segueing from the White House’s initial ludicrous “spontaneous protest over the Mohammed movie” narrative to a “yes, of course this was a terrorist attack” admission. Not until tonight, though, I believe, did Chris Stevens’s superiors at State think to politely inform the public — not to mention Carney — that, oh right, there was never a protest. Let the fingerpointing begin:

The State Department said Tuesday it never concluded that the consulate attack in Libya stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam, raising further questions about why the Obama administration used that explanation for more than a week after assailants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

The revelation came as new documents suggested internal disagreement over appropriate levels of security before the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S…

But asked about the administration’s initial – and since retracted – explanation linking the violence to protests over an anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet, one official said, “That was not our conclusion.” He called it a question for “others” to answer, without specifying.

Which brings us to the second question: Why did it take a month for them to mention this? I have no answer, except to wonder whether they’d have ever admitted it if Issa hadn’t called House hearings this week. Tonight’s news is simply State’s way of pushing some anticipated heat off of itself and onto the White House before tomorrow’s grilling begins. It’s a comfort to know that nothing short of public humiliation by the opposition party could get them to share info about a terror attack that ended with an American ambassador being murdered.

Two new questions for you, then, as the hearings get going. First, if State didn’t circulate the “spontaneous protest” nonsense within the administration, who did? Eli Lake traced it back to a set of CIA talking points distributed to Congress early on, but as far as I know, no one’s ever explained why the CIA was pushing that theory when there were at least a dozen intel reports within the first hours pointing to something more sinister and deliberate. And second, if State was innocent in pushing the “spontaneous protest” line, how is it that Susan Rice — a top State Department employee, don’tcha know — ended up being the administration’s chief mouthpiece for that talking point on the Sunday shows? Didn’t anyone from State think of mentioning to her beforehand, “Oh, by the way, we have zero evidence to support what you’re about to go on national TV and say”?

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