On Sept. 11, an armed mob attacked the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
What otherwise might have been a rallying point for Americans, quickly became a point of bitter political division. At first the Obama administration insisted spontaneous protests over an low-grade anti-Muslim video had morphed into violence. But contradictory evidence mounted quickly that no such protest had occurred and that the heavily armed attackers were affiliated with known terrorist groups.
Every day that the White House clung to its version of the attack, the more Republicans railed about a pre-election cover-up . Testy exchanges in presidential debates hinged on whether the president had used the word terrorism in his first-day remarks. Congressional Republicans vowed to hold hearings and kept their word.
David Petraeus, the former CIA director, appeared, but because he had just resigned over an extramarital affair, he was spared serious grilling over his agency's role in withholding key intelligence. But U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose repeated insistence on the spontaneous protest scenario became a focal point of Republican ire, was not spared; on Dec. 13 she withdrew herself from consideration for secretary of state.