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Issa stands by claims of al Qaeda-affiliation in Benghazi attacks

By Carrie Dann, NBC News

Rep. Darrell Issa on Sunday stood by claims that a group affiliated with the terrorist organization al Qaeda was involved in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

Rep. Darrell Issa defends his harsh criticism of President Obama's handling of the Benghazi attack.

"It was accurate," Issa said on NBC's Meet the Press. "There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al Qaeda."

The comments by Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one of the most outspoken critics of the White House's handling of the attack, came after an investigative New York Times report concluded that the raid was conducted by local militants rather than by Al Qaeda or by another international terrorist group. 

The report by journalist David Kirkpatrick further asserts that a major cause of the attack was outrage over an American-made video offensive to Muslims. 

Issa said that Kirkpatrick did "very good work" but that he has seen no evidence that the video was the attack's leading cause, a claim made by then-UN ambassador Susan Rice in the immediate aftermath of the attack. 

He maintained that the administration should come clean about misstatements about the causes of the attack, even if those claims were made to protect the CIA outpost in Benghazi. 

"They went out on five stations and told the story that was at best a coverup for the CIA or at worst something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi," Issa said. 

The September 11, 2012 attack left four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead. 

Also appearing on Meet the Press, Kirkpatrick said that Republicans like Issa are conflating local Islamic militant groups with the international terror network founded by Osama bin Laden. 

"If you're using the term al Qaeda to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, If you're going to call anybody like that 'al Qaeda,' then, okay," he said. 

A senior Obama administration official told NBC News on Saturday that the White House does not dispute the New York Times report. 

The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick discusses his investigation that found al Qaeda was not behind the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

While it dismisses the allegations of some of the White House's biggest critics, Kirkpatrick's report hardly paints a rosy picture of the intelligence community's handling of the Benghazi situation. 

"I would say in addition to inadequate security, there was a real intelligence failure here," he told NBC's David Gregory. "There's a substantial C.I.A. operation tasked with trying to figure out what is a threat to American interests among these militias, and it's clear that the United States fundamentally understood the dynamics of those militias."

But the piece also pinpoints why some Republicans have claimed a direct link between local militant groups and the terror network. 

"The only intelligence connecting al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call," he wrote in his report. "But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault."

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