It's the most anticipated House hearing in weeks and will likely provide the Romney campaign with talking points for the rest of the presidential race. At noon, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will bring in State Department officials into the Obama administration's intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi Libya. We'll keep you updated on the latest tweets and commentary on the hearing as it proceeds but here's what to watch for ahead of time.
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Update: 1:58 p.m. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who opposed the U.S. intervention in Libya, is playing "I told you so," arguing that the country has become less stable. "Interventions do not make us safer," he said "They are a threat to America." Asking if Al Qaeda has a larger presence in Libya, Lt. Col. Wood said they are "more established."
Update 1:50 p.m.: Ambassador Kennedy says Susan Rice had as much information as he did when she went on TV with the inaccurate intelligence. "Both of us were relying on the same information," he said. "If I or any other senior administration official, career or non-career. would've been on that television show, we would've said the same thing." That's an interesting statement given that senior State Department officials said Tuesday they never concluded that the terrorist attack was a "spontaneous," something Rice repeatedly said on television. It would seem that those State officials would not have made Rice's mistakes.
Update 1:32 p.m.: Looking for a gotcha moment, Rep. Burton asks why the State Department's Charlene Lamb isn't calling the attackers "terrorists." Lamb says she's just outlining the facts. Michelle Malkin joins the bandwagon:
Update 1:26 p.m.: Cummings, interviewing Nordstrom, is attempting to make the case that Nordstrom's complaints about the State Department don't match his previous assessments that State Department security was appropriate in Libya. It appears that Cummings is trying to push against Nordstrom's statements in Jake Tapper's piece here that are critical of State.
Update 1:17 p.m.: Rep. Jason Chaffetz halted the presentation by State Department officials worrying that they were revealing classified information. (A satellite image of the U.S. compound appeared on a chart). "I totally object to the use of that photo. I believe it to be classified information. It should not be disseminated in a public matter that State is doing," Chaffetz said.
The State officials insisted it wasn't classified and was publicly available information. The image appears to be a satellite photo of Benghazi, similar to ones reported in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Rep. Cummings noted that "you can Google this" and a State official said it was merely commercial satellite imagery. After some fireworks, Issa ultimately sides with Chaffetz saying "I would direct that that chart be taken down."
Update 12:52 p.m.: "I'm concerned that this attack constitutes a new security reality," said Eric Nordstrom, the former chief security officer for U.S. diplomats in Libya. He compared the attack to 9/11 in how it should change the way we think about security. His security team wasn't in the position to defend themselves against "roving gangs" and couldn't rely on the Libyan government to rely on "emerging threats," he said. He added that armed security contractor companies weren't allowed in Libya and ticked off a number of recommendations.
Update 12:45 p.m.: Lt. Col Wood, who led a special forces team tasked with protecting diplomats in Libya, is called to testify. Wood has criticized the State Department for allegedly reducing the number of security personnel in the country despite an uptick in security threats.
Update 12:32 p.m.: When I was in Libya, nobody "ever mentioned a video," said Republican Jason Chaffetz, scolding a range of administration officials for blaming the attacks on the U.S. film Innocence of Muslims.
Update 12:15 p.m.: Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, a ranking member on the committee, made it clear he doesn't want a witch hunt. "We should not be in the business of drawing conclusions and then looking for the facts." Drawing first blood on Issa, he said it "simply hasn't been the case," that Issa is carrying out this hearing in a bipartisan basis. He called Republican tactics "toxic" and "petty." Cummings then hammered Republicans for cutting embassy security, calling on the House to increase funding for embassies.
Update 12:15 p.m.: Issa moved to guilt the administration for not preparing for the attack. It's a strange statement though. "We now know that in fact it was caused by a terrorist attack that was reasonably predictable to happen somewhere in the world on September 11." That line "somewhere in the world" [our emphasis added], seems like pretty vague advance notice.
Update 12:11 p.m.: Republican House committee chairman Darrell Issa begins by rejecting the initial Obama administration narrative that the attacks were inspired by the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. The film "clearly had no direct affect on this attack," he said.
Update 12:00 p.m.: Hearing is about to begin. In the meantime, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation has released a video hammering the Obama administration for changing its depiction of the attack:
Here's what to watch for today: First and foremost, it may turn into a "partisan yelling match." As Politico's John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman report, Republicans have every reason to make this an explosive hearing given the proximity to Election Day. "The Libya attack and its aftermath has turned into a key election-year topic for Republicans," they write. "Each party is accusing the other of bad faith leading up to Wednesday’s hearing, called by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to review security issues surrounding the Benghazi consulate where Stevens and the other Americans died."
But inter-party fighting may not be the only form of combat. It's also possible that State Department officials will reiterate claims made last night, renouncing earlier claims from the Obama administration that the attack was a spontaneous reaction to a U.S. film attacking Islam. That risks depicting the Obama administration as internally divided.
Another character to watch will be Hillary Clinton, reports The Hill's Jordy Yager and Julian Pecquet. They say committee chairman Darrell Issa is setting his sights on Clinton—someone who would be "his biggest political target yet."
Meanwhile, ABC News's Jake Tapper reports that the State Department's "inappropriately low" security in Benghazi will loom large today in light of testimony from Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom. "Nordstrom twice wrote to the State Department – in March and July 2012 — to beef up the presence of American security officers in Benghazi, but neither time was there a response," reports Tapper. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that administration officials will offer some push back of its own, noting that Republican budget cuts will endanger diplomatic security abroad.