All-Star Panel: White House finally calls Libya attack 'terrorism'

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to United States policy. It's in response to a video.

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Does the United States government regard what happened in Benghazi as an act of terror?

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Again, I am not going to put labels on this until we have a complete investigation, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you don't regard it as act of terrorism?

NULAND: I don't think we know enough.

CARNEY: It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the resulted was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that's self-evident.


BAIER: After a week of back and forth, and, as you saw, just a couple examples but there are many more from the administration not saying that this was a terrorist attack. Now it's self-evident according to Jay Carney on the Air Force One, as you could hear there. What about this and the Libya attack on the consulate that killed ambassador Chris Stevens? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Charles Lane, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and Jonah Goldberg, at-large editor to for National Review online. This panel I call the goatee panel. You're surrounded. And Charles Krauthammer, by the way, everyone, will be back in the house tomorrow. No offense, Jonah.


BAIER: Steve, your thoughts on this and where the administration has been and where it is today?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think what Jay Carney was trying to do there is pretend as if they always thought it was a terrorist attack. Of course it was terrorist attack by the description you have given. But we have seen, in the video clips that they didn't always acknowledge that it's a terrorist attack. And they're still not giving on this claim that they've made that they've staked their argument on that this was spontaneous, and that this was just people a bunch of people who got riled up and picked up RPGs and suddenly decided to commit this attack.

I talked to some folks in the intelligence world today who said that this is -- virtually nobody thinks that this was spontaneous anymore. The only people who are making that argument are administration officials, Obama political appointees. And that beyond this, the word used was a "fiasco." This looks like fiasco going down. The biggest news, I think, coming out of the last 24 hours after you reported the possible involvement of this former Gitmo detainee.

BAIER: This is the guy Sufyan ben Qumu. We have a new picture of him -- a new picture actually – who was let go from Gitmo in 2007 and sent to Libya.

HAYES: The news, I think, in the last 24 hours after that is existence of the report that was prepared by a Pentagon counterterrorism group, first reported by my colleague Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard which basically says this is what we're seeing in Libya right now is the deliberate plan of Al Qaeda central.  This is the Al Qaeda central leadership encouraging these splinter groups, these jihadist groups, in Libya giving them strategic guidance to grow. What this report said, which came out in August, was that this is a growing threat and a threat that the United States government must take seriously.

BAIER: Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, Libya's own leader actually said a few days ago it's preposterous to suggest that it wasn't premeditated.

BAIER: Let me interrupt you here. The administration response to that was "we have more access to collecting data on the ground than he does." Libyan's president, that was the response to Libya's president. And now they are saying from the White House podium, Air Force One it's self-evident that it was terrorism.

LANE: Well, I was saying that because I was trying to think of reasons why they would go to such lengths not to call it a terrorist attack. And one might not be to offend the host country, not to offend Libya, not to create a diplomatic problem with Libya. We know that can't be the reason because Libya, itself, is saying it was probably premeditated. So you've got to conclude they don't want to call it a terrorist attack for some other reason. And that other reason I would think is they don't want to say "terrorism" is happening in the last six weeks of a presidential campaign

GOLDBERG: On American soil. Right? This isn't the first attack we've had on American soil.


BAIER: Technically, because it was the U.S. consulate. It was the first ambassador to be killed since 1979. It was an attack on 9/11, the 11th anniversary. It's a big, big deal.

GOLDBERG: It's a big deal, and also they for reasons that I think we all agree are somewhat mysterious they put Susan Rice out to make something of a fool of herself.

BAIER: She was on five, I think it's five, Sunday shows -- and there you see the shot -- where she went around, and the story changed a little bit, but basically the same, that it was this spontaneous group in Benghazi and that it got out of control and evolved and then turned deadly.

GOLDBERG: And in fairness, I'm sure that the terrorists who attacked didn't like the video but I don't think that that's really the issue. And this was a premeditated terrorist attack. There is so much confirmation of that now. And I think -- the only benefit of doubt I can give is that they lock themselves into such -- they really did shoot first and aim later with this response, not just, maybe not Obama but his entire administration. And now they are trying figure out a way that they can walk back from it without looking like they jumped the gun. And I don't know how they do that.

BAIER: The president was asked about this today. Do we have the sound bite? We don't have it yet. He was asked about it in Univision specifically -- why wasn't your administration better prepared with more security at the consulate? It was a long, long answer. And he didn't really ever answer the question. But he came back to what we have seen over the last week, week-and-a-half is something we have seen in the past, an offensive video, a cartoon directed at the prophet Muhammad. He came back to the video said that he is concerned about security and he redoubled effort around the world at embassy and consulates after that. What about that?

HAYES: I found his answer absolutely extraordinary. This is the President of the United States still complaining about this video. Nobody believes that it was about the video. Nobody thinks it was about the video.

Beyond that, the Obama administration is now running ads as we reported in Pakistan, in effect distancing the U.S. government from the video. Who has done more than the U.S. government than the Obama administration to give this video exposure? First you had the tweets and the statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo in what was maybe just a run of the mill gathering protest. Outside the embassy, there are those kinds of protests all the time. There was a report in Foreign Policy magazine that other Egyptians in Tahrir Square were sitting and drinking coffee. This was an information operation to have this protest on the pretext of getting angry about this video with the hope that it turns in to something.

And now what we have done by having the President of the United States talk about it and the secretary of state, putting out statements, and now putting out advertisements in Pakistan. We have done what they wanted us to do. We have given it all the attention it could possibly get.

BAIER: We're spending $70,000 in Pakistan to run those ads --

LANE: -- well, I think what the president said, in fairness, was they're exploiting the video, right? They're exploiting the terror, more violent people or whatever it was he called them are exploiting the situation.

BAIER: Used as excuse to carry out inexcusable violent acts.

LANE: Right, which is not quite the same thing that Steve is saying.

GOLDBERG: The political context of it is -- Barack Obama is essentially saying my policies are right.  We've done everything right. We couldn't have anticipated this spontaneous problem.  The problem is – the things that come from having a First Amendment and free expression in our own country and they create these problems. There's nothing to see here.  We did nothing wrong.

BAIER: I am not usually one to harp, but yesterday the head of the National Counterterrorism Center is up on Capitol Hill open hearing says it is terrorism, it was a terrorist attack. There were developments yesterday, let alone what we reported, just put it aside. This is the New York Times. There was not one story in the New York Times about Libya. Let alone the terrorism angle. There's not a story in here about Libya. Now it just seems strange. I don't know. Am I wrong?

HAYES: No the newspaper record ought to have a story. Basically, the administration's narrative here is collapsing. It doesn't work anymore. Nobody believes it. And you did I think have some other outlets. Reuters had a real tough piece saying that what the administration was arguing was at odds with what we now know to be factual, was at odds with what the administration claimed. CBS News followed up this morning with a report that Fox had three days earlier, that there were, in fact, no protests in Benghazi, just didn't happen. CBS News reported that today as well.

BAIER: Chuck, I should point out I would have held up the Washington Post but you had a Libya story. So --

LANE: I was going to say.


BAIER: You are all good.


LANE:  -- somebody to stick up for the Post, but we did cover it.

BAIER: Next up, 2012 and how it all factors in. Keep it here.

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