Despite the best hopes of the Obama Administration, the Benghazi story will not go away. And it shouldn’t; not before we know who made the final decision to dupe the American People, and why. Last week’s revelation that the Administration’s original “talking points on Benghazi were revised a dozen times adds another reason not to trust the official story line,” says The Wall Street Journal. It also gives Congress new cause to keep digging. Now mainstream reporters, not just Fox News, have disclosed that the talking points evolved over time to exclude references to terrorists who might have participated in the attacks that killed four Americans last September, including out Ambassador, Chris Stevens. The first iteration on Friday, September 14, prepared by the CIA, said that, “we do know (emphasis added) that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda participated in the attack.” Notwithstanding that the attack occurred on September 11, a day loaded with unbelievable significance, the Administration originally trotted out U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to pitch the line that the attacks resulted from reaction to a YouTube video that had gone viral and which apparently offended the Islamic world.
The White House is still sticking with its original story claiming now that everyone knows that talking points always get routine interagency scrutiny and editing. A former journalist, Mr. Carney may have been in politics so long he has forgotten when public officials begin to sound ridiculous.
Last week three State Department witnesses contradicted the original line put out by the Administration. Riveting testimony by Gregory Hicks, Deputy to the Ambassador in Tripoli, and two colleagues reignited questions about Benghazi, previously solely a preoccupation of the right. Former Secretary Clinton’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, citing “issues” of the State Department leadership insisted on amendments so the talking points, made no mention of al‑Qaeda or CIA warnings about inadequate security at the Benghazi consulate. Hicks, his voice cracking with emotion, recounted how he was told not to talk to a Republican congressman who was visiting Tripoli to investigate the attack. After he did so, without a State Department lawyer who had been sent to sit in on such meetings, he received a call from Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, who was “upset” and demanded a report on the visit. Footage of Clinton asking indignantly in January “what difference does it make whether Americans were killed because of a protest or some other reason” is certain to appear in 2016 attack advertisements.
For their part, Democrats are invoking the “vast right‑wing conspiracy” theory that Hillary Clinton trotted out in 1998 during the Lewinsky scandal. In any event, it appears that last week’s hearing before the House Committee was a turning point, and Republicans were no longer pulling their punches about the Benghazi affair. Truth is always the first casualty, particularly inconvenient truths, and as Peggy Noonan wrote, “The Benghazi story until now has been a jumble of factoids that didn’t quite cohere, didn’t produce a story that people could absorb and hold in their minds.” The testimony this past week seems to have changed all that. “You could tell that the three parties testifying; Gregory Hicks Mark Thompson and Eric Nordstrom, were authoritative, well respected and credible. You knew you were hearing the truth as they saw and experienced it. Not one of them seemed political. You had no sense of how they vote in elections. They were professionals. They put the lie to the idea that all questioning of Obama administration actions in Benghazi are partisan and low.”
Because the White House could not tolerate the idea of Benghazi as a planned and deliberate terrorist assault, it had to be made into something else. So they sent Susan Rice out to the Sunday talk shows to claim it was a spontaneous street demonstration over an anti‑Mohammad YouTube video made by some nutty California con man. But, if what happened in Benghazi was not a planned and prolonged terrorists assault, if it was merely a street demonstration gone bad, the Administration had an excuse not take military action to protect Americans there. You take military action in response to a planned and coordinated attack by armed combatants. You don’t if it is an essentially meaningless street demonstration that came and went.
President Obama had supported overthrowing Kaddafi and put U.S. force behind the Libyan rebels. It was one of the President’s better hours. It was about time that the Libyan strong man was overthrown. But what went wrong? Now Libyans were killing our diplomats. More importantly, the Administration’s efforts against al Qaeda would suddenly come under scrutiny and questioning. After the killing of bin Laden, the President apparently thought that the al Qaeda threat was vastly diminished. “ GM is alive and Ben Laden is Dead” became a 2012 election mantra”. But if an al Qaeda offshoot in Libya was killing our diplomats, the age of al Qaeda sponsored terrorism was certainly not over.
Apparently now, House Republicans plan to take another step in the widening Benghazi investigation by asking leaders of an independent review board to agree to be questioned about their investigation of last year’s attacks in Libya. The Accountability Review Board reported in December that the State Department had failed to provide for the security of the Benghazi post despite growing militancy in the area. Republicans have assailed the Board for not probing more deeply and not formally questioning Mrs. Clinton. Some charge the panel was under the control of Mrs. Clinton and the White House. “We believe it was insufficient,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in an interview on Meet the Press. Now, as a result of the recent testimony before the Congress, Republican lawmakers believe that additional whistleblowers are likely to emerge. They also are pushing for the appointment of a special select committee to probe the attacks; bringing together investigations now underway at five separate GOP‑controlled panels.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona has called the Administration’s response to Benghazi‑‑including inaccurate “talking points” used as the basis for early public statements‑‑a “coverup” and endorsed the idea of a select committee, as did Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Mr. Inhofe predicted last week that the Benghazi investigation would even lead to an impeachment debate.
As you might expect, Democrats see it differently. They think that the investigation is aimed squarely at the political future of Mrs. Clinton, who is frequently mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Truth is always the first casualty and in the midst of a reelection campaign, Obama aides wanted to promote a mythology that the President who sent the Navy SEALS to kill Osama bin Laden was vanquishing terror so they deemed it problematic to mention any possible al Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack. Looking ahead to 2016, Hillary supporters needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar Secretary of State.
In any event, while the Administration stubbornly clings to the old saw, That’s my story and I am sticking to it, the media and the public are no longer buying it.