Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was never known for being soft on journalists during his time in office. On Monday’s "Starting Point" on CNN, Giuliani pushed back at CNN morning anchor Soledad O’Brien, who started their interview typically by offering the Obama talking points for Giuliani’s reaction.
But when O’Brien started insisting that the word “cover-up” was going too far, and started asking her assistant Miguel for all the Obama transcripts, Giuliani asked, “Man, am I debating with the president's campaign? I mean, the defense of the president is overwhelming.”
Giuliani simply did not believe that if the Obama administration had any savvy, they would believe that the terrorist attack on Libya erupted out of a spontaneous demonstration over an old YouTube clip uploaded from California. He thought U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice should have known this public-relations line would flop before she announced it on five Sunday network news shows.
“Susan Rice goes on television four days later -- I was on CNN with her that morning. Says it was a spontaneous demonstration,” he said. “I knew it wasn't. I'm not part of the administration; I knew it wasn't the day after. And she had to know it wasn't. They were saying it wasn't, the national security adviser said it was a terrorist plot.”
O’Brien aired more of the administration spin: “So the White House now is basically saying the State Department dropped the ball, the State Department is looking and saying - listen, I'm just telling you how it goes - and they're saying there's intel issues.”
Giuliani shot back: “Who put Susan Rice on? The State Department? Or the political people? It was a political appearance on CNN. So what they're really trying to do is they're trying to run out the clock. They're going to have this investigation; the investigation will be after the debate, after the election is over, so what they're trying to do is cover up this scandal as much as possible."
O’Brien really started to protest.
“Calling something a cover-up kind of takes it a further step, don't you think?”
“No, wait a second," Giuliani replied. "There was - a statement was made, including by the president of the United States, that this was due to this terrible movie about Mohammed.”
Then O’Brien grew passionate: “But he actually didn't say it. The verbatim, the actual verbatim of what he said, he did not say it was something other than that, but it was mentioned. But he did not succinctly say, ‘This was due to a movie.’ Miguel, why don't you pull all these transcripts for me? We have them all in the back room, we can just pull them out.”
Giuliani insisted, “There was information both in the State Department and the White House that it wasn't [a protest]. There was no protest in advance. This sounds like a cover-up. I mean, if this weren't a Democratic president, I think all of you people would be crazy.”
There's plenty to make a careful journalist crazy. On CNN's own "State of the Union" program on Sept. 16, Rice announced, "let's recall what has happened in the last several days. There was a hateful video that was disseminated on the Internet. It had nothing to do with the United States government, and it's one that we find disgusting and reprehensible. It's been offensive to many, many people around the world. That sparked violence in various parts of the world, including violence directed against Western facilities including our embassies and consulates."
Rice was even clearer in misstating the problem on CBS's "Face the Nation."
“What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video,” Rice said.
CNN would have a tough time locating something President Obama actually precisely said on Libya, and he often lumped that deadly attack together with protests at other embassies. But in a Sept. 20 interview with Univision, he said of Libya, "I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
"Miguel" could have shown Soledad this report from Libya by CNN's Arwa Damon from six days earlier: "Libyan security officials have been telling us that for months now they've been warning the United States about this growing extremist threat and that they have been growing ever more concerned about how little control they actually themselves have over the situation."