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Benghazi attack: Will Senate inquiry be a factor in presidential election?

Senator Lieberman says his committee will try to ‘find out what happened and why’ in the Benghazi attack, but panel staff say the information-gathering stage is unlikely to be finished by the election.

By Staff writer / October 15, 2012

Chairman Joe Lieberman (Ind.) of Connecticut leads a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this Sept. 19 photo. Mr. Lieberman said he will try to 'find out what happened and why' in the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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Washington

In the midst of intense politicization of the Sept. 11 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a Senate committee has announced it will conduct what it assures will be an “independent, bipartisan” inquiry into the deadly assault.

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The Benghazi attack is expected to dominate whatever portion of Tuesday night’s televised debate between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney veers from the economy to US foreign policy.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind.) of Connecticut says his Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will try to “find out what happened and why” and to determine factors ranging from “threat awareness” before the attack to the adequacy of security provisions for US diplomatic personnel in Benghazi and in Libya as a whole.

Noting that four US diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, lost their lives in the terrorist attack, Senator Lieberman and ranking committee member Susan Collins (R) of Maine said, “Those four men, their loved ones, and the American people deserve a full and fair accounting of why and how that tragedy occurred.”

It seems unlikely that the committee’s inquiry – which joins another investigation ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – will get very far before an election that is just three weeks away. Committee staff say the inquiry is unlikely to move beyond the information-gathering stage before Nov. 6.

In the meantime, the Benghazi attack is becoming the central theme of Mr. Romney’s attack on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy – an area in which the president has enjoyed a clear advantage over Romney in opinion surveys.

But Obama’s lead over Romney in the area of handling international affairs is closing, recent polls show – a trend that appears to have convinced Republicans that attacking Obama for “weakness” by highlighting Benghazi is paying off.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan continues to hammer at Benghazi as the poster child for what he says is the administration’s “chaotic” and “crumbling” foreign policy.

Other Republicans have seized on Benghazi in advancing this theme of “failure.” Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the administration took too long to come to the conclusion that what happened in Benghazi was a “terrorist attack,” adding, “Either they’re misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent.”

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