All-Star Panel: Senate Intelligence Committee's final report on Benghazi

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 15, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R - GA: We know that after the fact several Al Qaeda members emerged as kind of leaders of the pack. So I can say with complete confidence that Al Qaeda was involved in it and that certainly the State Department knew that Al Qaeda had a major precedence in Benghazi.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We know that there are guys who may have ties or loose affiliations to people who are also affiliated with Al Qaeda. That doesn't mean Al Qaeda core is directing or planning anything in Benghazi, and it doesn't mean that they were involved here. We have no indications that they directed or planned this attack.


BAIER: Well, the Senate committee -- Intelligence Committee, came out with a report led by Dianne Feinstein, in which it says, among other things, that multiple parts of Al Qaeda's international terrorist network were involved, including the groups Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, both branches of Al Qaeda sworn allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who obviously was number two under Usama bin Laden.

What about all this and this report? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill, and Jonah Goldberg, at-large editor of National Review online. This is what I call the goatee panel, and the go-to panel, but Steve.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think the first thing that has to be said is, I have to praise the Senate Democrats who issued this report. It's a tough report. It's very, very tough on the State Department. Obviously, as we just heard, the report concludes without qualifiers that Al Qaeda elements were involved. It names the four specific Al Qaeda groups that played a role in the attacks or who contributed participants in the attack, both of which undermine the administration's narrative, certainly undermine the revisionist narrative that the New York Times tried to sell a couple weeks ago. But it's a tough report.

Now, having said all that, it doesn't answer all the questions. There are many, many questions that still remain to be answered. And that was one of the criticisms that the Republicans in their additional views to the report, led by Saxby Chambliss, also made note of. There are a lot of questions that we didn't have answers. And certainly the Democrats I think could have been tougher on the whole talking points controversy. They kind of skated right by the talking points and didn't really criticize the administration on that.

The most striking thing about this report, especially when looked at in the context of the 450 pages that Fox reported on over the last couple days, is the absence of President Obama. He's just nowhere to be seen in this narrative. In the narrative in the 450 pages when people are talking, the minute by minute thing, he's just not present.

BAIER: Here is Senator Dianne Feinstein speaking about this report today.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D - CA: We know there were a number of events, attacks, that took place in the six months prior to Benghazi. We also know that there was discussion about added security. We know the ambassador did not want added security. We know there were concerns about Benghazi. We know there were training camps around that area. And it is something that I think the State Department has to really come to grips with.


BAIER: That's part of this report, Juan, is what the State Department knew about the security situation, when they knew it, and the fact they had re-upped this lease for that particular building for another year, something that wasn't noted in the Accountability Review Board.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Right. I think, to me, the big news out of this was, you have a report, as Steve said, that I think is very tough coming from the Democrats in the Senate. And it says to me -- the headline is this could have been prevented.

Now, how it could have been prevented is better intelligence. They say very clearly, the intelligence that was coming in was of poor quality and that there were poor communications between the intelligence agencies and the State Department. In fact, what we learned is the CIA did take some steps to have added security at their installation there. The State Department did not. And as you just heard from Senator Feinstein, there's also some suggestion that the ambassador didn't want that added security in Benghazi. He had requested added security in Tripoli.

But to me, the big news here is about the language, because clearly, the Republicans are still stuck on this business about affiliated. And then the key argument would be, so does that mean they were under the control of Al Qaeda, the core group that threatened the United States, or is this simply some, you know, distant linkage you can draw on, some kind of this guy knew that guy who knew that guy.

BAIER: You know what we know more about is if we had more of the documents from the Usama bin Laden raid that lay out, allegedly, the connection between Al Qaeda core and those affiliate groups, but we don't have those. We only have 19.

WILLIAMS: That's true.

BAIER: Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Yeah, I think the reason why some people are focusing on the affiliated/Al Qaeda stuff is that the narrative that came out of the White House and out of the State Department for a very long time was that this was a spontaneous movie review from a bunch of jihadists and it had nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever.

We know that that's now not true. And so the fact they're related to Al Qaeda, why that's relevant, is it shows this is a terrorist attack, which the White House denied during a presidential campaign, and it was something more serious that could have been prevented. I don't think it's whether we care if they had membership cards in Al Qaeda or not.

I agree with Steve to a certain extent that this is a much tougher report than I would have expected. It's by no means -- I don't want to say that it is a whitewash, but it's a very political document. It is an amazing thing to have such a searing indictment of the State Department and the intelligence bureaucracy, and Hillary Clinton's name I think appears in the entire document once. It says the State Department made all these mistakes, it did no independent intelligence investigation after this had happened, after people died, 15 people have died who cooperated with the -- who cooperated with investigations in Libya, and there's no mention of Hillary. Basically, Barack Obama is completely absent, too. And it seems like part of the negotiation that led to this report was a way to avoid casting specific blame on anybody who matters and just have this be a general indictment of the bureaucracy.

BAIER: People on Bing weighing in, and the lines are up and down, but the Benghazi blame. Who's most to blame for Benghazi terror attacks? Al Qaeda and its affiliates, 36 percent, people of Benghazi, zero percent, State Department 30 percent, President Obama, 33 percent.

A lot of people, Steve, have thoughts about this. I guess the question from Senator Chambliss, talking about terrorist attack, the second sound bite here, is why did this come to a protest and a video, and how? And they can't get that answered. Take a listen to Senator Chambliss.


CHAMBLISS: I think very clearly they knew by the time that meeting took place that this was a terrorist attack. And they had to discuss the ramifications of what a terrorist attack meant in light of the fact that the president had been out there talking about Al Qaeda had been decimated. Did they know Al Qaeda was directly involved at that point in time? Probably so. But again, I don't know what was discussed there and I can't really answer that.


BAIER: And he's suggested they have been stonewalled by the State Department and the White House.

HAYES: They have been stonewalled, and even the Democrats in this report acknowledge the White House was not cooperative initially, and still there are many things that the committee would like to see that they haven't yet seen.

I think there's an answer to the question, to the video question. There was an initial report that mentioned an intelligence report -- it was an intercept -- that mentioned the protests in Cairo. The CIA early on seized on that report because the CIA had provided warnings to the administration about protests in Cairo. The CIA wanted that in their reporting to the administration after the fact so they could point back and say we warned about these kinds of protests. The CIA hadn't warned about Benghazi.

The administration then took that one single mention and blew it up as the cause of the attacks, which nobody believed that it was. And you saw in the e-mail exchange that came out with the talking points. David Petraeus object to the talking point in part because the reference to the Cairo piece had been taken out and the emphasis was so much then on the video from that point forward.

BAIER: I want to go down the row quickly. Political implications, perhaps for Hillary Clinton?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think Republicans are clearly, have their eyes on this as being something they can use against Hillary Clinton in a presidential race.

BAIER: Does it stick?

WILLIAMS: No, it doesn't stick. Look, there's no -- in this report -- tough as Steve says it was -- there's no evidence of a cover-up of any kind. In fact, it said it was badly positioned military jets, bad intelligence, bad communications, but there's no cover-up, there's no stand down, don't respond, nothing like that.

BAIER: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: I think it sticks to the extent that it undermines her sense of good management of the State Department. All she has going for her is that she traveled a million miles. Meanwhile, four Americans died.

HAYES: Yes, it matters, and I would argue that it already has. If you look her favorability ratings more than a year ago and compare them to where they are now, it's had an effect. They're down.

BAIER: Next up, is the president an asset or a liability for Democrats in this election year? Headed to North Carolina today. Keep it here.  

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