Well, that's a matter of opinion, as we shall see. But the Associated Press is reporting that the State Department now claims that it "never believed the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry."
The State Department's extraordinary break with other administration offices came in a department briefing Tuesday, where officials said "others" in the executive branch concluded initially that the protest was based, like others in the Middle East, on a film that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.
That was never the department's conclusion, a senior official told reporters.
The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on diplomatic security in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The attack as become a political football in the final weeks before the election.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has accused the State Department of turning aside pleas from its diplomats in Libya to increase security in the months and weeks before the attack in Benghazi. One scheduled witness Wednesday, Eric Nordstrom, is the former chief security officer for U.S. diplomats in Libya who told the committee his pleas for more security were ignored.
Briefing reporters Tuesday ahead of the hearing, department officials were asked about the administration's initial - and since retracted - explanation linking the violence to protests over an American-made anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet. One official responded, without specifying, that it was a question for others to answer.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, and provided no evidence that might suggest a case of spontaneous violence or angry protests that went too far.
What exactly did the State Department say about the attack? Hillary Clinton on 9/12 in the immediate aftermath of the attack:
"We are working to determine the precise motivations and methods of those who carried out this assault. Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear -- there is no justification for this, none."
Well, she certainly doesn't even mention the idea that it was a planned terrorist attack and makes it clear the video may have had something to do with the assault.
Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, on 9/13:
"Well, as we said yesterday when we were on background, we are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, whether it was premeditated, whether they had any external contacts, whether there was any link, until we have a chance to investigate along with the Libyans. So I know that's going to be frustrating for you, but we really want to make sure that we do this right and we don't jump to conclusions. That said, obviously, there are plenty of people around the region citing this disgusting video as something that has been motivating."
Both Clinton and Nuland didn't come right out and say that the film was to blame, true. But anyone listening to them would come away with the distinct impression that they were, indeed, acknowledging that protests against the film probably played a part in the attack.
It's good to see the State Department walking back from the administration line on the attack. It should make Rep. Issa's hearing today very, very interesting.