WASHINGTON – The Obama administration appears to be covering up a gun-running scheme in Benghazi that fell apart when jihadists attacked the U.S. mission there, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others, charges Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Paul said he’s concerned by the “lack of security in advance of the attack, how they responded to the attack and the political coverup after the attack.”

Paul said the evidence suggests political motivations throughout, and it appears that a larger agenda was at work.

In an interview with WND, the senator said his “suspicion, although I don’t have any proof, is that guns were being smuggled out of Libya, through Turkey and into Syria.”

“And that may be what the CIA annex was doing there,” Paul said, “and the coverup was an attempt to massage and get over this issue without getting into the gun trade.”

His comments came in the wake of congressional hearings in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally was questioned about the calamity on her watch.

Paul said he “was very surprised she had never read any of the cables.”

“I found it to be inexcusable,” he said. “It is her job and … it is a dereliction of duty.”

Clinton claimed she didn’t see a classified State Department cable sent Aug. 16 that said the Benghazi consulate could not defend against a “coordinated attack.”

Paul made headlines during the hearings when he grilled Clinton on her “failings” regarding the Benghazi attack.

“I think that ultimately, with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11,” he told the secretary of state during the hearing.

He also told Clinton that if he “had been president at the time of the attack” he would have “relieved” her of her post.

He noted there were many human judgment errors, “but no one was fired.”

“The people who make judgment errors need replaced, fired, and no longer in a position of making these judgment calls,” he said.

“Not to know of the request for security, really, I think, cost these people their lives. Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job.”

See the exchange:

He said the backdrop is that the attack was a consequence of America’s interventionist foreign policy.

“We should really be thinking to whom we give weapons,” he said.

“For years we gave weapons to the mujahedeen and bin Laden when they were fighting the Soviets. So we were in favor of radical jihad for over a decade,” he said.

He suggested the Obama administration is making a similar mistake “in a slightly different fashion by giving F-16s and Abrams tanks to Egypt.”

When asked if he has any reason to believe Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., will be a better secretary of state than Clinton, Paul said, “I think they’re identical, and they’re identical to many of the Republicans.”

He said it appears the parties in Washington are not that far apart on some issues.

“They all agree that we should be involved everywhere around the world and that we should give unlimited weaponry to every side of every conflict all around the world and that we should extend foreign aid without conditions,” he said.

As such, many committee hearings in which problems are supposed to be discussed “are simply a love fest,” he said, because of the philosophical agreement between Republicans and Democrats on those subjects.

“That is a part of the problem and while [in the Senate], I will be a lone wolf” to advocate for a new foreign aid system that he thinks would help prevent future abuse of American aid, he said.

He wants to make aid conditional

“Countries should prove to us that they are willing and able to protect our embassies, they ought to turn over anybody who was involved in the attacks on our embassies as in Libya or as in Pakistan, they ought to free the man who helped us get bin Laden, Dr. Shakeel Afridi,” he said.

Further, it’s “economic nonsense” to continue borrowing money from China that is then handed out to other nations.

On the topic of Syria, he said, “It’s plausible that we’ve armed people in civil wars that we didn’t know who they were.”

He pointed out the possibility that al-Qaida has been armed at U.S. expense there.

Al Nusra and other extremists among the rebels in Syria possibly are connected to al-Qaida, he said.

“If we are giving arms, which we deny that we’re giving arms, they say that we’re only giving them to the good guys,” Paul said. “In the middle of a war-torn area, I don’t know if you’re giving a Minnesota multiphasic psychology test to everybody you’re giving arms to. I think it’s pretty difficult to determine who your friends are and who your foes are, who is extreme and who is not. When they come up asking for a rocket launcher, they’re probably acting like they’re your best friend.”

He said it largely will be up to the members of the U.S. House to continue investigating Benghazi.

“Many on [the Republican] side probably think it’s done, and many Republicans agree with Democrats that they’re fine with the foreign policy continuing as it is,” he said.

However, he said if the House “had some gumption, they can call people who were in the annex to hear their testimony and bring forth Ambassador Rice to talk about the coverup and military commanders.”

As a practical matter, he said the “military should be in charge of embassy security in countries that are emerging from civil war, and not the State Department.”

He said the equipment and personnel for the U.S. to use military force should be stationed nearby.

WND previously has reported on the discoveries about the Benghazi scandal, including when Paul asked Clinton during the congressional hearings about the weapons transfer operations. She responded, “I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.”

In it was September when WND broke the story that Stevens played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.

According to the 39-page report from independent investigators probing the attacks at the diplomatic facility, the U.S. mission in Benghazi was set up without the knowledge of the new Libyan government, as WND reported.

WND also exclusively reported the facility may have violated the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which governs the establishment of overseas missions. Like most nations, the U.S. is a signatory to the 1961 United Nations convention.

Article 2 of the convention makes clear the host government must be informed about the establishment of any permanent foreign mission on its soil: “The establishment of diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent.”

According to the State report, there was a decision “to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility,” likely disqualifying the building from permanent mission status if the mission was indeed temporary.

And WND reported in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice may have deliberately misled the public when she went on television news shows and called the facility that had been targeted a “consulate.”

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