On Sunday, President Obama will head to a resort outside Las Vegas, Nevada, where he will begin three days of preparation for the first presidential debate. The man tasked with playing the role of wealthy, slightly awkward patrician Massachusetts politician Mitt Romney will be wealthy, slightly awkward patrician Massachusetts politician Sen. John Kerry.
It's unclear if this has created any awkward moments during President Obama's debate prep - likely not - but Kerry has been formally requesting information from the U.S. State Department about what precisely happened in Benghazi, Libya.
The Republican National Committee has seized upon these letters to state "Obama's Own Debate Partner Not Buying Spin On Libya," which is not quite an accurate assessment of what's going on.
The Cable's Josh Rogin gets it right when he describes the line Kerry is walking - he is "calling for transparency and accountability from the administration but not going so far as to criticize the Obama administration's handling of the issue outright."
Here's the skinny: Less than a week after the attack, on Monday, September 17, Kerry, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Tom Nides expressing condolences and also asking for a better understanding of what happened in Libya.
Specifically, Kerry requested "a detailed accounting of the attacks on U.S missions in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen on September 11, 2012." He asked if the U.S. or host governments had intelligence prior to the attacks; if host government security forces were adequate to protect the U.S. missions; and if the host government forces were adequately trained and equipped.
He requested an assessment of the U.S. diplomatic security personnel and U.S, marines stationed at the various diplomatic posts (though we now know there were no U.S. Marines in Libya.) He asked for an assessment of the cooperation by the Egyptian, Libyan, and Yemeni governments with efforts to investigate the attacks and bring to justice those responsible. And he asked if the State Department would recommend any changes to existing security practices for U.S. missions abroad.
On Wednesday, September 19, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was having a "business meeting" when some Republican lawmakers suggested bringing up formal legislation for an investigation. According to a Kerry aide, Kerry shot that down immediately because he says it already comes under a requirement in the law - the Outside Accountability Review Board -which already required the State Department to review the attacks.
In order to give voice to the concerns of the Senate Republicans on the committee, Kerry agreed to send a second letter. Last night, that bipartisan letter - signed by members of the full committee - was sent to Nides. It included the questions of the Republicans on the committee, including:
"In addition to a discussion of whether host government security forces were of adequate size and were adequately trained and equipped to protect our mission, please explain your response to include a discussion of the steps, if any, those forces took to protect U.S. missions or assist U.S. personnel on the days in question."
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller