Thanks to CBS News' warmed-over and underwhelming reporting, the political world is talking about the 2012 Benghazi attacks again and the litany of "lingering questions" that were answered long ago. And that of course means the emergence of cranks and hucksters who'll try to edge their way into the shrinking Benghazi spotlight and make a few headlines for themselves. Enter Joseph diGenova, attorney for a number of Benghazi "whistleblowers" and established purveyor of fabrications, who appeared on Washington, DC's WMAL on October 28 to claim that "we have reason to believe" that during the response to the Benghazi attack "people were relieved of their duty because they insisted that there be a military response."
This idea that the Obama administration, acting on political considerations, deliberately withheld military assistance from the people under attack in Benghazi is at the core of the conservative obsession with Benghazi, even though there isn't any evidence to substantiate the claim.
DiGenova's specific allegation that people were relieved of duty for trying to order a military response suffers from the reality that a military response was ordered. Here's how Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz put it in their book on the Benghazi attacks, Under Fire: "Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: 'Lean forward and get there as fast as you can.'" As far as the chain of command goes, Leon Panetta was pretty high up (and he was acting on orders from President Obama), so it's not clear who would have been relieved for implementing the orders of the Secretary of Defense.
Fox News suggested that Hillary Clinton was lying during congressional testimony about the Benghazi attack by cropping her comments and hyping baseless claims made by a discredited GOP activist. Fox News hosts also dredged up the misleading claim that Clinton dismissed the importance of Benghazi in her testimony.
On America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer hosted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to attack Clinton over Benghazi. During the segment, Hemmer reported on a baseless claim by lawyer and GOP activist Joseph diGenova that the administration is trying to cover up the theft of 400 surface-to-air missiles that were somehow linked to the Benghazi compound. DiGenova, who made these claims during an interview with the Washington, DC-area show Mornings on the Mall, could not name his sources, acknowledged that some of his information is not "verifiable," and provided no evidence to back up the allegation. More generally, diGenova is just not a credible source. Along with his wife, Victoria Toensing, he has donated extensively to Republican candidates and causes, and has a long history of investigating Democrats and defending Republicans, having been accused of lacking "impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism."
Hemmer contrasted diGenova's dubious allegation with a cropped clip of Clinton's January 23 congressional testimony in which she denied knowledge of weapons transfers from Libya to Turkey. Hemmer asked Paul whether Clinton was "not telling the truth":
Fox's attack is based on selectively cropping Clinton's comments. During her congressional testimony, Clinton was asked by Paul, "Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?" Fox played a portion of her response, in which Clinton denied having any knowledge of a weapons transfer.
Below is the full transcript of her response to Paul's question in the January 23 hearings, with the portion that Fox omitted highlighted:
Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
After Fox News pushed a claim that a Benghazi witness had been "subjected to threats and intimidation" by State Department employees, the witness' lawyer admitted on the network that his client never said he had been threatened by anyone.
In a May 6 article for FoxNews.com previewing the then-upcoming House hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News reporters James Rosen and Chad Pergram wrote that Mark Thompson, one of the scheduled witnesses, "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress." The claim was sourced to Joseph diGenova, the Republican attorney representing Thompson.
But in a May 9 appearance on Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, when diGenova was asked by guest host Stuart Varney about Thompson's claims that "he was the target of threats and intimidation," diGenova responded that Thompson "actually hasn't said that."
Asked later in the interview to clarify whether Thompson was threatened, diGenova said that his client is an "ex-Marine" and "even though they made his life miserable after that night, he didn't feel intimidated, because as a Marine he never does."
Victoria Toensing and her husband and legal partner Joseph diGenova are pushing claims that anonymous State Department and CIA "whistleblowers" have been blocked and threatened by the Obama administration to prevent their testifying on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Toensing and diGenova are longtime Republican activists, and Toensing has a history of pushing dubious claims and falsehoods into the media.