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The President’s Benghazi Problem

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

Ambassador Rice was wrong on every particular. The security for the American consulate was nearly non-existent; the attacks were premeditated; they were carried out by Islamic terrorists; there was no mob protest; the video had nothing to do with the attacks; and we did have information that the attacks were pre-planned.

Ambassador Rice’s claims came despite the fact that, according to congressional testimony, the State Department had surveillance feeds and they were able to monitor the attacks in “almost real-time” and that according to media reports, an unarmed Predator drone was performing surveillance missions over Libya when the attack on the consulate in Benghazi began; within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants; and e-mails show that officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that an Islamic militant group (Ansar al-Sharia) had claimed credit for the attack.

In addition, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that within 24 hours of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi he had information from intelligence agencies that what happened were terrorist attacks, not spontaneous attacks inspired by the anti-Islamic video. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that accounts of the attack and the firepower employed “indicate something more than a spontaneous protest.”

There’s more.

The Washington Post was reporting on the day after the attack that “the early indications were that the assault had been planned” by “heavily-armed militias.” Journalist Eli Lake reported, “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers.” And in a story in early October, the Associated Press reported, “The State Department now says it never believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry.”

I have recounted this record in detail simply to highlight how ludicrous is President Obama’s claim that Senators McCain and Graham want to “besmirch [Rice’s] reputation” and that they are going after her “because they think she’s an easy target.”

Ambassador Rice’s credibility has been massively damaged because she misled the public (probably unknowingly) long after there was evidence that her claims were at least questionable and probably wrong. To the degree that she’s an “easy target,” it’s because the case against her and the administration is overwhelming. And the gallant Obama need not worry. The concerns about the negligence and misconduct of his administration don’t stop with Ms. Rice. Those concerns go right to the top.


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