Bowing to pressure from Senate Republicans, the White House disclosed on Thursday that President Barack Obama did not personally ask the Libyan government for help during September's deadly terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi. Instead, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reached out on his behalf, according to a letter from Obama’s official government lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, to key Republicans.
“Secretary Clinton called Libyan President Magariaf on behalf of the President on the evening of September 11, 2012 to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya and access to Libyan territory,” she wrote.
“At that time, President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. The President spoke to President Magariaf on the evening of September 12,” Ruemmler, whose title is Counsel to the President, told Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte.
Ruemmler’s response, obtained by Yahoo News, could clear a major obstacle to the confirmation of Republican former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary.
GOP senators had vowed to block his nomination unless the White House detailed Obama’s personal outreach to Libyan officials during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. Senators were expected to vote as early as Friday to end debate on the nomination, which requires 60 votes, and then later on his confirmation, which requires only 51. Democrats have 55 seats in the Senate.
Graham, McCain and Ayotte had pushed the White House in a Feb. 12 letter to say whether Obama spoke to Libyan officials during the attack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“During the eight hours the U.S. mission was under attack, did you personally speak with any officials in the Libyan government to request assistance for our American personnel?” they wrote.
The White House on Thursday came out swinging at Republicans trying to block Hagel's confirmation, with spokesman Josh Earnest saying Obama "stands strongly behind" his choice to succeed the departing Leon Panetta.
"These delaying tactics are unconscionable, and they should end right away," he told reporters aboard Air Force One.