Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benghazi talking points

Dude! Benghazi Won’t Go Away Until We Get the Truth

Democrats will probably greet the news that the House of Representatives is assembling a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack by cheering what they think is a Republican charge down a rabbit hole that will do them little political good. That is a viewed shared by some more objective observers like our Max Boot who think the controversy over the infamous talking points is not that big a deal and fear that the entire discussion about Benghazi is a distraction from the administration’s more important foreign-policy failures. He’s right that the administration’s fiascos on issues like Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East peace process are a bigger deal in the grand scheme of things. And he’s also right that the question of why our diplomats were not better protected, why help was not sent in time to save them, and, even more importantly, why none of the terrorists have been caught are actually far more egregious administration shortcomings than the false story about the attack being caused by an Internet video.

But even when those concerns are taken into account, House Speaker John Boehner is right to convene a select committee. Indeed, the decision is long overdue since the various competing committees that have already held hearings on the issue have generally botched the issue because of the uncoordinated questions from members more interested in grandstanding for the television cameras than in ascertaining the truth. A select committee with staff that will depose witnesses cannot be so easily dismissed.

As to the talking points themselves, however, I think those counseling conservatives to move on are wrong. What we have seen this week is not just the usual spin on events that you get from any White House. This administration has been acting as if no one, not Congress, the press, or the people, has the right to answers about its actions during and after the Benghazi attack. In a telling moment last night on Fox News, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, one of the people responsible for the famous talking points that claimed the attack was a case of film criticism run amok, had this exchange with Bret Baer:

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Democrats will probably greet the news that the House of Representatives is assembling a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack by cheering what they think is a Republican charge down a rabbit hole that will do them little political good. That is a viewed shared by some more objective observers like our Max Boot who think the controversy over the infamous talking points is not that big a deal and fear that the entire discussion about Benghazi is a distraction from the administration’s more important foreign-policy failures. He’s right that the administration’s fiascos on issues like Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East peace process are a bigger deal in the grand scheme of things. And he’s also right that the question of why our diplomats were not better protected, why help was not sent in time to save them, and, even more importantly, why none of the terrorists have been caught are actually far more egregious administration shortcomings than the false story about the attack being caused by an Internet video.

But even when those concerns are taken into account, House Speaker John Boehner is right to convene a select committee. Indeed, the decision is long overdue since the various competing committees that have already held hearings on the issue have generally botched the issue because of the uncoordinated questions from members more interested in grandstanding for the television cameras than in ascertaining the truth. A select committee with staff that will depose witnesses cannot be so easily dismissed.

As to the talking points themselves, however, I think those counseling conservatives to move on are wrong. What we have seen this week is not just the usual spin on events that you get from any White House. This administration has been acting as if no one, not Congress, the press, or the people, has the right to answers about its actions during and after the Benghazi attack. In a telling moment last night on Fox News, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, one of the people responsible for the famous talking points that claimed the attack was a case of film criticism run amok, had this exchange with Bret Baer:

BRET BAIER: According to the e-mails and the time line, the CIA circulates new talking points after they’ve removed the mention of al Qaeda and then at 6:21 the White House, you, add a line about the administration warning on September 10th of social media reports calling for demonstrations. True?

TOMMY VIETOR: I believe so.

BAIER: Did you also change attacks to demonstrations in the talking points? VIETOR: Maybe. I don’t really remember.

VIETOR: Dude, this was like two years ago. We’re still talking about the most mundane thing.

BAIER: Dude, it’s what everybody is talking about.

While Vietor is being rightly mocked for his cavalier and sophomoric attitude about a famous lie, it’s actually quite telling. Democrats are befuddled as to why the Benghazi story is still being discussed since they think there’s nothing to it and that we should have all moved on a year ago. But it won’t go away until they start telling the truth.

This exchange came on the heels of the delayed release of the shocking email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and the repeated arrogant lies told about this communication by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. This is more than mere fodder for conspiracy theorists and partisans who watch Fox News. They speak to an arrogant contempt for the public and the press that is rooted in a belief that this administration is above scrutiny and that anyone who wants to know the truth about the misleading talking points or anything else about this event should just shut up.

Though their performance on this issue may argue to the contrary, Republicans can walk and chew gum at the same time. They are perfectly capable of persisting in efforts to get to the bottom of Benghazi while holding the president accountable for what is happening in Ukraine, Syria, and the Middle East.

As I’ve written previously, Benghazi won’t be a decisive factor in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential election. But this story isn’t going away no matter how much Obama and his putative successor Hillary Clinton want it to. That’s not because GOP fanatics are deranged haters but because the White House seems to think telling the truth is an option rather than an obligation. That’s a belief that was reinforced for a long time in much of the mainstream media that seemed to take its marching orders from the White House. But the belated release and attempts to cover up and then lie about the smoking gun email on the talking points has aroused even some sectors of the press that might once have been counted on not to try to expose the administration to ridicule.

It’s not too late for a select committee to explore why Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other Americans were left to die in Benghazi without adequate protection or U.S. forces being able to rush to their aid. It should press the administration about its failure to catch the terrorists even though they continue to operate in plain view in the region. And it should also force officials to finally fess up about their political motivations for trying to pretend that a video rather than a revived al-Qaeda coalition was responsible as well as to how and why this was covered up.

These are not trivial concerns and if the House does its job, finding the answers to these questions will not be either a distraction from other foreign-policy failures or a political bonanza for Democrats. We can’t move on until we know the truth and that is something that has not happened yet. Much to the frustration of the White House, Benghazi will be over when we find out the truth and not a day sooner.

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Rice’s “No Regrets” and Obama’s Arrogance

It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

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It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

Rice should have regrets about being shoved into the public square with a false cover story. As Gregory noted in a follow-up question, the lies almost certainly made it impossible for President Obama to nominate her to be secretary of state. And considering the follies committed by John Kerry—the man who got the job that was denied Rice—on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and the disastrous and humiliating “resets” with Russia—the nation should have some too. We’ll never know whether Rice would have been smart enough to avoid some of the traps set by Vladimir Putin, Iran, and the Palestinians, that Kerry has fallen into, but it’s not likely she could have done any worse.

But her thwarted ambition is a mere footnote to history. What is relevant is what this arrogant denial tells us about the animating spirit inside the bubble of the White House inner circle that surrounds President Obama. Just like their boss, officials like Rice seem to think what they believe to be their good intentions gives them a permanent hall pass to deceive and to fudge the truth. In their world, the president never makes a misstep, the economy is always on the rebound and threats to national security are always receding in the face of Obama’s magical personality. In that world, you never have to account to the American people for falsehoods or say you’re sorry.

That’s the same mentality that leads the president to deny that the IRS contretemps was a scandal, that he lied when he told the American people they could keep their insurance coverage and their doctors, or that ObamaCare is causing at least as much pain as it is doing good. The president’s second term is stuck in neutral because there is so much that should be regretted and redressed but he and his minions continue to tell us to not believe our lying eyes and ears. Susan Rice’s lack of regrets not only tells us about her out-of-kilter moral compass but why her boss has arrogantly doomed himself to lame-duck status so early in his second term.

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Obama Doubles Down on Benghazi Denial

President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.

But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.

The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.

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President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.

But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.

The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.

The president’s barely concealed rage about having to answer questions about Benghazi explains Jay Carney’s tap dance last week in front of a frustrated White House press corps when he denied that there was any contradiction between the lies told by the administration eight months ago and the equally disingenuous spin it has been trying to sell the country in the last week. Clearly, Carney’s boss is taking the position that neither he nor the subordinates who did his dirty work for him on Benghazi have anything to answer for. Yet rather listen to any counsel about owning up to the problem and thereby taking the sting out of the attacks coming in from Republicans, the president is letting his temper get the best of him.

The premise of the president’s Benghazi tirade is twofold.

On the one hand, he seems to genuinely believe there was nothing wrong with a set of talking points that deliberately omitted the fact that Benghazi was a terror attack and tried to foist the false story that it was a case of a movie review run amok. But his claim that this narrative—which fit like a glove with his re-election campaign boasts about having destroyed al-Qaeda—was the product of the best intelligence available at the time is flatly contradicted by the emails between staffers about the talking points.

While the president insists there’s nothing new to discuss, the emails and the testimony of the whistle-blowers to Congress last week makes it clear there’s plenty of evidence to show that there was a deliberate intention to deceive the American people by both the State Department and the White House. His Nixonian denial of the problem illustrates not only his arrogance but also the way the White House bubble insulates him from political reality and inconvenient facts. Far from being a sideshow, the president’s rhetorical question about his critics providing help in ensuring that these events are not repeated is easily answered. The best way to do so is make sure those who made these mistakes are held accountable for them.

The president’s demeanor also indicates his confidence that the liberal mainstream media as well as Democrats will continue to support an administration stonewall on Benghazi. Accustomed as he is to a press that goes into the tank for him and an adoring public, he has little patience with the thought of having to apologize or backtrack from a stance that absolves the White House of any responsibility for what occurred in Benghazi or the lies that followed it. He seems sure that if he keeps saying Benghazi is just a GOP attack, he’ll get away with it. But, as I wrote yesterday, the cracks starting to appear in an otherwise solid, liberal wall of omerta about the administration’s folly may be the prelude to a general free-for-all in the press that will follow once a congressional investigation with subpoena power starts to unravel the web of deception and incompetence.

Obama’s challenge now places the ball squarely in the court of House Speaker John Boehner, who has the power to create a select committee to get to the bottom of the Benghazi mess. What the president did today was to more or less dare Boehner to do so. He should not delay in picking up the gauntlet and unleash investigators who may take the smirk off of the president’s face.

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