The Benghazi Scandal Unravels
May 25, 2013 Leave a comment
Republicans have been accusing the Obama administration of a cover-up ever since the attack in Bengazhi last September that claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
After striking 5 committees, holding 9 investigative hearings and receiving 2 formal reports, they have uncovered little that is damaging. The key argument for a cover-up has come down to the talking points that Susan Rice used on Sunday morning talk shows immediately after the attack. Her remarks described the attack as a spontaneous assault by demonstrators. Later, however, the administration described it as an act of terror.
Last Sunday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated a now familiar refrain on NBC News’s Meet The Press,
[W]e know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn’t a terrorist attack. I think that’s worthy of investigation, and the investigations ought to go forward.
The favoured GOP theory is that the administration had edited the talking points to remove references to Al Qaeda and downplay the terrorist threat so as to benefit the Obama reelection campaign. But there has never been any hard evidence to support this theory.
Then on May 10, the ABC News Senior White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, broke an exclusive story saying,
ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.
Karl concluded that the
White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well [as] references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.
It was later revealed that ABC News had only obtained handwritten summaries of emails between the State Department and the CIA rather than the exact text of these emails themselves. The summaries had been leaked by a Republican source within the State Department who altered the content of the emails to suggest that a cover-up was taking place.
To set matters straight, on May 16 the White House released copies of 100 emails and other additional supporting documents concerning the administration’s initial response to the Benghazi attack.
A detailed analysis by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post has shown that, contrary to Republican claims, Obama’s team did not delete references to Al Qaeda and terrorism to protect the State Department’s reputation. Instead, it was General David Petraeus, then the head of the CIA, who himself struck these references in an effort “to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.”
This revelation directly contradicts the Republican claim that “the CIA had wanted to tell the truth about what unfolded that day but that the State Department, with White House support, removed the information for political reasons amid a heated presidential campaign.”
The process of creating the talking points involved a flurry of activity between many actors operating under extreme time pressure. On Saturday, September 15 the talking points were finalized and given to Susan Rice in preparation for her televised appearances on Sunday morning. That Saturday evening the intelligence community received further information indicating that a demonstration had not taken place at the Benghazi compound as previously supposed, but this was not received in time to change the talking points. Instead, Rice spoke from the talking points she had been given, inadvertently setting off the firestorm that followed.
The public release of these emails has done a great deal to clarify the events that actually took place in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. They have also demolished the various GOP conspiracy theories of an orchestrated cover-up by the White House.
Once and for all, these emails thoroughly
– disprove the GOP claim that the Obama administration struck references about Al Qaeda for political reasons;
– disprove the GOP claim that Obama lied about there being a protest in Benghazi to hide that it was a terrorist attack;
– disprove the GOP claim that the White House directed the intelligence agency to lie about whether Islamist terrorists were involved; and
– disprove the GOP claim that Susan Rice had access to the classified information and lied about it on television.
Now that the facts are in, the only ones actually implicated by scandal in the course of this investigation happen to be Republicans. As Sarah Johns of Politicususa observes,
There was no cover up by the White House or State Department. There was, however, a deceptively edited email leaked to the press by a Republican on Capitol Hill, and there was a Republican hero who demanded changes to the talking points in order to make himself look better.
The attempts to bury President Obama under this “scandal” seem to have failed completely.