Yet Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and press secretary Jay Carney spoke repeatedly for days later of a video and a protest. Clinton assured one victim's family member that the video-maker was being prosecuted.
In the meantime, a CIA draft of talking points for the House intelligence committee was edited at the behest of State Department officials. Omitted were references to previous Benghazi attacks, the al-Qaida affiliate in Benghazi and intelligence estimates of threats in Libya. Also struck, the Interim Report says, were "any and all suggestions that the State Department had been previously warned of threats in the region."
These changes were made, the chairmen conclude, not to protect classified information -- reviews of the draft were circulated on unsecure email systems -- and not to protect the investigation by the FBI.
"This process to alter the talking points," concludes the Interim Report, "can only be construed as a deliberate effort to mislead the American people."
The resulting talking points were delivered to Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for her five Sunday talk show appearances on Sept. 16, in which she denounced the "hateful video."
Who might have ordered this "deliberate effort"? The Interim Report mentions Barack Obama only twice as recipient of letters of inquiry, but this comment seems aimed clearly at him and his first secretary of state.
We know that Obama was informed of the attack while it was occurring, that he ordered Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to respond to it (as he was already doing) and did not confer later with officials that evening. The next morning he jetted off to Las Vegas for a campaign event.
Benghazi threatened to undermine a central element of Obama's appeal, that his presidency would reduce the threat of Islamist terrorism. He managed to obfuscate that during the rest of the campaign. But maybe not forever.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.