The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, based on a series of dubious factual errors, is now offering a flawed comparison between the Watergate scandal and the Obama administration's response to the September terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.
There's no small irony to Woodward injecting himself into what has become a scandal driven by deceptively edited emails passed off to reporters, given the recent attention he received after using a similar method to support his ridiculous accusation that a White House aide threatened him.
In his latest attempt to jump into the debate on the side of the right wing, Woodward demonstrates a striking lack of familiarity with the basic facts of what happened.
Here's what Woodward said during his May 17 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, and what's wrong with those statements.
WOODWARD: You were talking earlier about kind of dismissing the Benghazi issue as one that's just political and the president recently said it's a sideshow. But if you read through all these e-mails, you see that everyone in the government is saying, "Oh, let's not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let's not tell the public that there were warnings."
If Woodward actually did read through all the recently-released emails from intelligence officials and other administration aides discussing the assembly of the much-ballyhooed talking points used in the wake of the attacks, he seems to have missed a few things. Administration officials suggested removing references to the al Qaeda ties of attackers because they were worried about tainting the investigation of the perpetrators, as David Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time of the attacks, later testified. Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell reportedly advocated for removing references to general CIA warnings about potential attacks -- there had been no specific threat warning for that day. As CBS News pointed out on May 16, the CIA signed off on all changes, and there is "no evidence" that the White House "orchestrated" the changes.
WOODWARD: I hate to show, that this is one of the documents with the editing that one of the people in the State Department said, 'Oh, let's not let these things out.'
Woodward appears to be holding this document, in which hand-written edits were made removing several paragraphs of the talking points during the "deputies meeting" of the National Security Council. But that editing was reportedly performed by the CIA's Morell, not anyone from the State Department. Morell reportedly approved the document for distribution.
From the May 16 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Emails from Obama administration aides obtained by CNN should end the right-wing media's nine-month witch hunt regarding the creation and editing of talking points related to the September 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
CNN has obtained more than 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between CIA, State Department, and other Obama administration aides concerning what should be included in talking points for public appearances by members of Congress and administration officials.
Those talking points were used by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in a series of interviews that were subsequently seized upon by conservative critics who claimed she downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks in order to aid President Obama's re-election. On May 10 ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on what he later acknowledged were summaries of a handful of the emails of administration aides, triggering another wave of claims that the administration had engaged in a cover-up.
But while the right has spent more than half a year mired in scandalmongering over the talking points, the emails buttress what Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified in November: that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points, and that references to terrorist groups in Libya were removed in order to avoid tipping off those groups and preserve the ongoing investigation.
Notably, while the right-wing media has expressed months of outrage over administration statements linking the attacks to an anti-Islam video, claiming that this was based on political desire and not the conclusions of the intelligence community, every version of the talking points stated that the attacks were "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which had been triggered by the video. The emails contain no criticism of that statement.
CNN's Jake Tapper further reports that the removal of portions of the talking points dealing with warnings about the security situation in Benghazi prior to the attacks were supported by the CIA:
Senior administration officials say that long before the CIA heard concerns from the State Department about warnings being put in the talking points, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell advocated for taking the warnings out, since he felt the talking points should focus on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, rather than the previous six months.
He also felt it was unprofessional and unfair for the CIA to cite its own warnings to the State Department, officials said. Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, raised concerns over the CIA's first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her briefings.
ABC News is now claiming that its Benghazi "exclusive" was based on summaries of emails between administration aides, not the emails themselves -- an assertion belied by their earlier reports.
CNN's Jake Tapper reported on May 14 that he had obtained an email sent by White House aide Ben Rhodes that "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations," including ABC's Karl. According to Tapper, previous accounts of the email made it "appear that the White House was 'more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department than Rhodes' email actually stated.'"
The conservative media has spent months obsessing over the Benghazi talking points that administration officials were discussing in those emails. According to right-wing conspiracy, the administration edited the talking points to downplay the role of terrorism in the attack in order to benefit the Obama reelection campaign. In fact, as then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators -- an account bolstered by the full version of the Rhodes email.
ABC News has responded by claiming their original reporting was based on summaries of the emails, not the emails themselves. In a statement to the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, an ABC spokesperson wrote: "Assuming the email cited by Jake Tapper is accurate, it is consistent with the summary quoted by Jon Karl." Karl himself has responded that rather than reviewing the emails themselves, he actually had been "quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes." He added that "[t]he source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails," suggesting that his original report was based solely on that source's summaries, and denied that the summaries provided an inaccurate take on the original email.
But ABC News and Karl himself have repeatedly suggested he had obtained the actual emails, not summaries of emails from Rhodes and others in the administration.
In the third paragraph of his May 10 ABCNews.com article, Karl reported that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department" (emphasis added). Three paragraphs later, he wrote that "Summaries of White House and State Department emails -- some of which were first published by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard -- show that the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points" (emphasis added). That was the sole reference to "summaries" in the online article. Instead, he repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents.
Karl and his ABC News colleagues also repeatedly suggested on-air that he had obtained the actual emails.
Reporting on ABC's Good Morning America on May 10, Karl neither said he had personally reviewed the emails, nor said he had reviewed summaries. Instead, he said he had "had emails read to me," then provided what he described as a direct quote from a State Department spokeswoman's email.
Karl likewise cited "an email obtained by ABC" on the May 10 edition of ABC's World News and read the comments from the State Department spokeswoman as a "quote" from that email. (via Nexis).
Similarly, ABC's Martha Raddatz referred to Karl having "exclusively obtained the emails" on the May 12 edition of This Week, while Reena Ninan referenced "emails exclusively unearthed" by Karl on the May 11 World News.
It seems reasonable for readers to assume that when, for instance, a reporter publishes a direct quote attributed to a White House staffer from what is described as "an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m.," the reporter is producing the actual words the aide wrote. Now ABC News is claiming that that is not the case.
For months, the Obama administration has been subject to media criticism for its initial statements linking the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya, to an anti-Islam video that had triggered protests across the Middle East at that time. President Obama has been accused of attempting to deliberately deceive the public in order to benefit his reelection campaign. But several media reports, filed from Libya in September and October and citing the statements of witnesses, show that at the time there was a reasonable case that the video played a role in the events of that day.
Much of the media's criticism has been based on a false premise. They claim that rather than accurately identify the attacks as terrorism, the administration chose to attribute them to the film. But in addition to ignoring the fact that President Obama referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" at least twice in the days after September 11, this line of logic is a false dichotomy: it ignores the possibility that the attackers may have been terrorists, but their reason for engaging in that particular act of terror was because they were enraged by the film.
That is the conclusion that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis came to in the initial draft of the much-ballyhooed talking points on the attack: They reported that the attacks had been "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo" -- protests triggered by the video -- and committed by "Islamic militants with ties to al Qa'ida." The latter point was removed from later drafts in order to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators, but every version of the talking points stated that the attacks had been "inspired by the protests," and thus the video. In fact, CIA director David Petraeus criticized the final version of the talking points for not doing enough to link the attacks to the protests.
By definition, terrorism aims to further a political agenda. That means that terrorists have stated grievances, however horribly flawed those may be. Until the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack are captured, it is impossible to say for certain what their motivations were for engaging in those terrorist acts. But a review of reporting from Benghazi shows that the administration's comments suggesting that the video provided a motivation were not far-fetched.
It's no surprise that in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, reporting was often confused and contradictory. Some of the stories below state that there was a protest outside the diplomatic facility before the attack began, while others say that there was not (the State Department's review of the attacks concluded that there had been no protest).
But all four accounts provide on-the-scene reporting finding that residents of Benghazi - in some cases witnesses to the attacks citing the claims of the attackers themselves -- linked them to the anti-Islam video.
New York Times: "Libyans Who Witnessed the Assault And Know The Attackers" Say They Cited The Video. On October 16, in a story featuring Suliman Ali Zway's contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya, the Times reported that according to "Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers," the perpetrators had cited their anger at the video as the reason for their actions:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
''It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,'' said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. ''There was no protest or anything of that sort.''
United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts. Whether the attackers are labeled ''Al Qaeda cells'' or ''aligned with Al Qaeda,'' as Republicans have suggested, depends on whether that label can be used as a generic term for a broad spectrum of Islamist militants, encompassing groups like Ansar al-Shariah whose goals were primarily local, as well as those who aspire to join a broader jihad against the West.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl is helping to promote a dishonest narrative regarding why then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus expressed disapproval for a set of talking points written in response to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Karl's reporting on the issue has ignored the central reason Petraeus said that he didn't like the talking points: he thought they didn't do enough to connect the attacks to demonstrations in Cairo that were triggered by an anti-Islam video. Since right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have spent months accusing the Obama administration of politically-motivated lying for stating that there was a link between the attacks and the video, this point is crucial.
According to CBS News, in a September 15 email, Petraeus wrote that "he doesn't like the talking points and he would 'just assume they not use them... This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn't even mention the Cairo warning. But it's their call.'"
The "Cairo warning" Petraeus mentioned appears to refer to the following sentence that CBS News reported was added to the original talking points but subsequently removed:
On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy [in Cairo] and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy."
As has been extensively reported, the September demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video. In the days and weeks following the attack, President Obama both referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" and offered criticism of that video for "spark[ing] outrage through the Muslim world."
It was not unreasonable for Petraeus and Obama to cite a link between the attacks and the video - according to the New York Times, the Benghazi attackers told bystanders that "that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video." In fact, the original set of talking points prepared by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that the attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
But in reporting on the same Petraeus email, Karl has left out Petraeus' stated reason for disliking the talking points and in one case allowed his interviewer to suggest that Petraeus actually opposed linking the attacks to the video.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
Robert Gates is calling out conservatives for the "cartoonish impression of the military" they promote when baselessly criticizing the Obama administration for not sending additional support during the September attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have often criticized the administration for what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan termed their decision to "do nothing" in the face of the attack, with some suggesting that by failing to send additional troops or fighter jets to respond, President Obama had deliberately "sacrificed Americans" as a "political calculation."
But Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, debunked these claims and explained that he would have made the same decisions, during his May 12 interview on CBS' Face the Nation.
Gates explained that he "would never have approved sending an aircraft" due to fears it would get shot down, and that he would not have approved sending Special Forces due to a lack of information about what was happening on the ground:
GATES: I think the one place where I might be able to say something useful has to do with some of the talk of the military response. And I listened to the testimony of both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, and frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think that my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, despite all the turmoil that's going on with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting someone there in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible.
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
And with respect to sending in Special Forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I've read people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to send some small number of Special Forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think would have been very dangerous and personally I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time.
The Pentagon has said that fighters could not have been sent to Benghazi because they lacked the refueling tankers that would have been needed to get them there and that Special Operations Command Africa instructed a team of Special Forces not to leave Benghazi because they would be needed to provide security in Tripoli. That second team would not have reached Benghazi before the attacks were concluded.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is mischaracterizing the aftermath of the September attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in an effort to promote her claim that Hillary Clinton's aides engaged in "obfuscation."
In her May 12 column, Dowd writes that Gregory Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission in Libya during the attacks and testified before Congress May 8, "believes he was demoted because he spoke up" about the Obama administration's characterization of the attacks in a meeting with Beth Jones, an undersecretary of state.
In fact, Hicks' change of position came after he voluntarily decided not to return to Libya; he subsequently testified that the "overriding factor" in that decision was that his family didn't want him to go back. According to the State Department, that decision took him out of the regular cycle in which Foreign Service officers are assigned, resulting in him being placed in a temporary position as a foreign affairs officer in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. According to State, Hicks retains the same rank and pay, and has submitted a preference list and is under consideration for his next assignment.
Dowd further claimed:
Hillary's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, also called Hicks to angrily ask why a State Department lawyer had not been allowed to monitor every meeting in Libya with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited in October. (The lawyer did not have the proper security clearance for one meeting.) Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, has been a rabid Hillary critic on Fox News since the attack. Hicks said he had never before been scolded for talking to a lawmaker.
But Hicks himself never described Mills as angry. In his testimony, Hicks acknowledged that Mills had offered no "direct criticism" of his actions, but cited the "tone and nuance" of Mills' voice during their conversation as indicating she was "unhappy" (Hicks later repeated a congressional Republican's description of Hicks as "upset.")
In painting this as part of a pattern of obfuscation, Dowd also ignored the administration's explanation for why Mills would have wanted a State Department lawyer present for Hicks' meeting with Chaffetz - a State Department official told Dowd's paperthat department policy requires one to be present during interviews for Congressional investigations.
Dowd's commentary follows that of Fox News hosts who have baselessly described Hicks as being "excoriated," "reprimanded," or "punished" by Mills - a characterization promoted by the false frame that Congressional Republicans pushed in their questioning of Hicks.
During a key moment in her congressional testimony on the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effectively exposed the witch hunt that conservative media helped Republican lawmakers lead:
[T]he fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?
It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.
That was Clinton's now famous response to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who questioned the secretary over the State Department's role in editing the administration's public talking points - questioning that no doubt delighted a legion of scandal mongers in the right-wing media desperate to spin those talking points into a Watergate event that would bring down the Obama administration.
Since the moment news broke that a U.S. ambassador was among four Americans killed in terrorist attacks on a diplomatic outpost, the right has desperately tried to prove that the administration was engaged in a "cover-up." Meanwhile, serious, independent investigators have worked to uncover how to prevent such attacks from happening in the future.
This week, as House Republicans prepare to renew their hyper-politicized Benghazi trials, that question - what difference does it make whether the immediate talking points were exactly right on the motive - has again been thrust to the forefront. Fox News analyst Brit Hume, appearing on the May 7 edition of America Live, offered something of a response to Clinton's testimony and in the process provided a hint as to why this matters at Fox:
The murdered ambassador there was her subordinate. The staff there at the embassy were her subordinates. So if she took a walk during this, that doesn't exactly recommend her for the person that who's going to receive the middle-of-the-night phone calls, does it? I mean, I don't think there's any way for her to escape this even if she succeeds in arguing that she didn't her fingerprints on it. If she didn't, she should have.
See, for Fox, the tragedy does not lend itself to asking how to do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again. Instead, the tragedy creates an opportunity for Fox News and the Republican Party to try to bring down the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton over questions like who edited the talking points after the fact.
John Bolton has long been the id of the conservative foreign policy movement -- saying what all of his right wing brethren would not dare even mumble in polite company. He continued that trend yesterday on Neil Cavuto's Fox News program, telling the host during a discussion of the administration's reaction to the September 11, 2012, attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya:
I'd have to say for the good of the country, I hope it is a cover up rather than the alternative, which is the Obama administration was so blind to the reality of the threat of Islamic terrorism, the continued threat from Al Qaeda... If that's the problem there's no cure for it. If it was merely a political cover-up then there can be a political cost to pay.
Bolton is claiming that the administration altered CIA talking points to suggest that the attacks came in response to an anti-Islam video -- an allegation debunked by the original draft of those talking points. But his reference to hoping for a cover-up is striking.
From the moment this attack occurred conservatives, led by the conservative media, have prayed for this to be the tipping point in their efforts to take down the Obama administration.
Conservatives like Bolton have grown frustrated with the remarkable resilience the President has had in the face of their attacks. No scandal they've trumped up has harmed the political standing of his administration.
What they don't realize is that they have created this coat of Teflon. Like the boy who cried wolf, it's impossible to take their cries of Oval Office conspiracies when credible investigations continue to debunk their claims. The results of the Accountability Review Board lead by Ambassador Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, whose reputations in this matter are beyond reproach, were vital, detailing twenty-nine recommendations to avoid tragedies like Benghazi from happening in the future, while handing out blame where it was deserved.
This is unimportant to the right, who would rather pursue scalps than improvements in policy that could potentially save American lives.
Instead those on the right like John Bolton would rather continue to play the role of Ahab, hunting not for answers but to take down the President, a fact that in every instance leads them further from the truth.
Fast and Furious, Solyndra, and numerous other pseudo scandals have shown a conservative media uninterested in actual answers. Instead they simply wish that one day their prayers of a Obama scandal will come true.
A central facet of the right-wing media's criticism of the Obama administration's response to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya has been inadvertently disproved by The Weekly Standard.
For months, the right-wing media has suggested that the Obama administration had for political purposes attempted to link the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Islam YouTube video. According to this theory, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and other high-ranking members of the administration had highlighted the video as a "diversion tactic" to downplay the attack's connection to terrorism and cover up the supposed failure of American foreign policy that would indicate. But the original draft of talking points on the attacks generated by the CIA -- released last week by The Weekly Standard in an effort to demonstrate how those talking points were changed "to obscure the truth"-- prove that the intelligence community itself believed that such a link existed.
In the Weekly Standard article, Stephen F. Hayes highlighted how specifics about the involvement of members of an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group that were included in an initial September 14 draft of talking points by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis were later removed by administration officials. Included in Hayes' report are images of the various versions of those talking points, which serve to drastically undermine the right-wing media's critique. Here's the first bullet point from what The Weekly Standard terms "Version 1":
We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.
In the final version of the document, that bullet reads:
The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
These talking points were used by Ambassador Rice for a series of September 16 television interviews. The right-wing media subsequently engaged in a witch hunt to portray her as untruthful and misleading for connecting the attack to the video. But as the Weekly Standard has now shown, it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis and not political appointees that introduced that link into the talking points.
Fox News' campaign to use the September terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, to damage President Obama may not have succeeded in defeating his bid for re-election, but it has resulted in Congressional Republicans issuing a politicized report that echoes longstanding conspiracy theories in an obvious attempt to damage Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The report, compiled by House Republicans on five committees for the House Republican Conference, has already come under fire from the Democratic leaders of those committees, who have reportedly sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner accusing him of politicizing the inquiry by shutting out Democratic views. Fox News, however, is already promoting its conclusions, with a segment on the "scathing report" leading Fox's Special Report:
This is no surprise. The right-wing media -- led by Fox News -- has spent more than half a year blaming the Obama administration for the tragic deaths of U.S. personnel in Benghazi and wielding that attack as a cudgel in an attempt to cause political damage. They have politicized the attack since day 1, claiming that the Obama administration's actions are directly responsible for the deaths and pushing conspiracies about administration officials deliberately misleading the public.
Several Fox talking points on the attack were later used by Republican senators seeking to criticize the administration during that hearing. So it's no surprise that similar talking points have found their way into the report itself.
Notably, the document accuses the Obama administration of "deliberately misleading" by asserting that an anti-Islam YouTube video had triggered the attack, echoing claims by Fox News. But The New York Times has reported that the attackers themselves said they were motivated by the video.
Likewise, the report pins the blame for the Benghazi facility's level of security directly on Clinton. A nonpartisan review conducted by a State Department Accountability Review Board, led by Ambassador Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, made no such finding with regard to Clinton, attributing the security conditions to lower level bureaucrats.
Expect Fox to continue to push the report in the days and weeks to come. They've been pushing these partisan attacks for months, and apparently have no intention of backing off now.
We're not yet a month into Barack Obama's second term, and already Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin can see the president's "second-term curse" taking shape. At its core, according to Rubin, is last year's terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- or rather, several audacious and blatant falsehoods about Benghazi that Rubin is trying to hang around Obama's neck.
Rubin wrote in a February 7 blog post [emphasis in original]:
We are barely out of January and all this has occurred: We learned the economy contracted in the 4th quarter of 2012. President Obama is trying to wriggle out of a sequester, which he insisted upon in the 2011 budget negotiations. The Congressional Budget Office says our debt is dangerously increasing. Obama was forced to push Susan Rice aside and should have pushed Chuck Hagel off the boat. Jack Lew is now under scrutiny for ignoring federal law regarding Medicare insolvency warnings. And Benghazi -- you remember the story the mainstream media would not cover? -- has turned into a debacle. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified today that the president was absent during the Benghazi, Libya, attack(s) and neither he nor Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to anyone in the White House after briefly telling the president an attack was underway. What?!?
None of this is particularly compelling, as far as "curses" go. The Q4 GDP contraction was due to decreases in government spending (mainly defense spending), and other leading economic indicators actually showed some good news. "Personal consumption, fixed investment, and equipment/software all grew nicely. This is the real economy humming along," wrote Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal. And as for Obama "trying to wriggle out of the sequester" that he "insisted upon in the 2011 budget negotiations," that's only half the story. The sequester was a compromise agreed to by both parties after the GOP took the debt limit hostage and demanded spending cuts in order to raise it. And it's true that Susan Rice is not Secretary of State, primarily due to the fact that she was never nominated. Instead Obama nominated John Kerry, who sailed through confirmation, and Hagel is looking like he'll be confirmed as well. That's some curse!
Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched "real-time" video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: "There was no monitor, there was no real time." As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis. But the "real-time" video falsehood did not start with the Fox News host. In fact, one of the first mentions -- perhaps the first -- of the spurious Benghazi video was on Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog.
The whole story starts with an October 10, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that hearing, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, had this exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), describing how she followed via telephone the developments in the Benghazi attack as they were happening:
LANKFORD: Mrs. Lamb, can you clarify for me, where -- where were you working September 11? Were you in the Washington area -- were -- in the main facility there?
LAMB: Yes sir. I was in the D.S. Command center on the evening of the event.
LANKFORD: You -- you -- you note that in your testimony that you were in the Diplomatic Security Command Center and then you make this statement, "I could follow what was happening almost in real time."
LAMB: That's correct.
LANKFORD: So once they hit the button in Benghazi, you're alerted, it says you could have. Did you follow what was happening in real time at that point?
LAMB: Sir, what was happening is they were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back.
LANKFORD: But you're -- but you're tracking it back and forth what's going on.
LAMB: Yes absolutely. [Transcript via Nexis, emphasis added]
That night on Fox News' Hannity, Liz Cheney seized on Lamb's testimony, but characterized it correctly:
CHENEY: Today, we learned from Charlene Lamb under oath that she followed, you know, the diplomatic security official, that she followed what was going on, minute by minute. She was following it in real time. So the administration knew in real time, there wasn't a mob, they knew in real time that this was a well-coordinated attack. They knew in real time that it involved heavy weaponry, this was clearly a terrorist attack and the American people have clearly, as you've said, been lied to.
The following morning, October 11, Jennifer Rubin posted a video of Cheney's Hannity appearance in a post headlined "Real-time Libya: Who knew what, when?" In that post, Rubin claimed (citing no other sources) that Lamb had watched a "real-time video" of the attack -- something neither Lamb nor Cheney had said:
Seriously, something doesn't make sense. Do we think no one else ever got the benefit of that information that mid-level bureaucrat Charlene Lamb had? This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone (the White House, the public, the media) wanted to know what happened in Benghazi. So why not look at the real-time video? Why not ask Lamb what she saw and heard?
That next day, October 12, CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow wrote in his syndicated column that "State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time." [emphasis in original] Later that night on Fox News, Hannity made his first reference to "real time video" of the attack: "The president knew within 24 hours what the truth was, and what I am told, they actually saw this in real-time. There is a video, real-time, of everything that went down in Benghazi."
From that point forward, Hannity flogged away at the State Department for "watching" the attack unfold "real time," repeating it almost every day as it spread to other corners of the conservative media. Wemple debunked the allegation in November, citing a State Department official's denial that anyone at State "had the ability to watch either of the attacks in real time." According to an administration official quoted in Wemple's report, the Benghazi compound had closed-circuit video surveillance that could not be monitored from outside the facility.