The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded its Benghazi investigation and is set to release its report in early 2014, a move that will only intensify the debate over the administration's handling of the deadly terror attack.
On Sunday, the New York Times published a six-part article on the attack that concluded that al Qaeda played virtually no role in the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
The piece also bolstered the argument that at least part of the attack was prompted by anger over an anti-Islamic video, as the Obama administration originally claimed.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has yet to weigh in on the New York Times' Benghazi report. A spokesman said she was traveling on Monday and didn't plan to comment but also noted that the committee plans to release its Benghazi review “very early in 2014.”
What that report says about al Qaeda's role, the security lapses surrounding the attack and the motivation behind it will reshape the debate yet again, likely keeping Benghazi in the headlines for weeks to come.
Republican lawmakers have probed the Benghazi attacks, blaming the Obama administration for failing to secure the U.S. facility and charging it with purposely playing down the terrorist component of the attacks for political gain.
Some Democrats were quick to seize on the Times report, arguing that it lent credibility to the administration’s initial claims that the violence was the result of spontaneous protests.
The report could also boost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. Before leaving the State Department, Clinton appeared before a Congressional hearing where she was grilled on Benghazi and the security lapses that led to the attack.
While Clinton survived the tough hearings, Republicans will inevitably hammer her on Benghazi if she chooses to run for the presidency.
But the Times piece has also revived the highly charged debate over the events surrounding the Benghazi attack.
In the days since the report, key Republican and Democratic lawmakers have disputed the New York Times account on the extremists' involved and their ties to al Qaeda.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., stood by his contention that al Qaeda played a role in the attack and even had operatives on the ground that night.
“I dispute that, and the intelligence community to a large volume, disputes that,” Rogers told "Fox News Sunday" about the Times' report, repeatedly stating that the story is “not accurate.”
The House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation into Benghazi.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the intelligence panel, on the same show backed up Rogers' argument, saying “intelligence indicates al Qaeda was involved.” But he added “there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al Qaeda that were involved.”
“So it's a complex picture,” he said. “I don't think it's either accurate to characterize this as a long-time preplanned core al Qaeda operation or something completely unaffiliated.”
Foreign policy experts and reporters also have disputed the New York Times reporting on al Qaeda's links.
The Daily Beast on Monday ran a blog post by Eli Lake headlined, “Yes, There IS Evidence Linking al Qaeda to Benghazi.”
In that report, Lake says the New York Times left out any mention of the Jamal network, which U.S. intelligence sources say had some fighters involved in the attack. The head of the Jamal network is believed to be a former top lieutenant to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda. The State Department, Lake notes, designated the Jamal network as a terrorist group tied to al Qaeda.
The New York Times in an earlier story had reported that the Jamal network, in addition to Ansar al-Shariah and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was involved in the assault.
All sides agree that Ansar al-Sharia, a local Islamist militia, was heavily involved in the attack but there is no consensus about the group's ties to al Qaeda, with Rogers saying they have “affiliations with al Qaeda core” and the New York Times describing the group as separate and distinct from al Qaeda.