President Obama may think the dispute over his handling of Benghazi is a “sideshow,” but his remarks Monday at the joint press briefing with British Prime Minister Cameron are evidence that his administration misled the American people and is trying to do so even today.
For example, in just one paragraph consisting of two sentences, Mr. Obama contradicted himself twice. Mid-way through one his lengthy non-answer, the president said:
“Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing. And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.”
Let’s unpack these two sentences. First, Mr. Obama claims that his briefing from the CIA put the blame for the Benghazi attack on an anti-Muslim YouTube video, even though we know that (a) the video had nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi and (b) no mention of the videos appeared in any version of the talking points.
So precisely who pinned the blame for the attacks on the video? And will the president reveal his intelligence briefings to an investigative committee to prove that the final talking points tracked what the intelligence community was telling him?
In addition, if the president’s press conference statement is true – that he and his top aides were saying right after Benghazi that these were Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks – then why did a September 20, 2012 New York Times story begin this way?
“The White House is now calling the assault on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, a ‘terrorist attack.’”
“It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. ‘Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials.’
“Until now, White House officials have not used that language in describing the assault.”
And why were the following (accurate) phrases excised from the CIA’s original draft of the talking points:
…as to who is responsible for the violence, although the crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals. That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
The wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya almost certainly contribute to the lethality of the attacks.
The Agency has produced numerous pieces of the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has [sic] previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks
It certainly appears as if on Saturday, September 15, someone in the administration told the Deputy Director of the CIA to delete these words from the draft talking points.
We don’t yet know who this was, but we need to find out. And you can bet that individual was not a press aide like the State Department press spokeswoman or the communication guy at the National Security Council.
It is simply bizarre for Mr. Obama to suggest the CIA would chuck its early, accurate findings and instead (falsely) inform him that the Benghazi attack was a simple spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video.
Second, Mr. Obama says after Ambassador Rice made the round of five Sunday morning talk programs to sell the blame-it-on-the-video line, that he, the commander-in-chief, sent Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center “up to Capitol Hill…specifically” to say “it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.”
If that were in fact the case, then why was Ms. Rice, the most visible and prominent administration spokesperson on this matter, telling the American people something utterly at odds with what Mr. Olsen was telling members of Congress?
As he is prone to do, Mr. Obama constantly misstated the facts Monday. For example, he said “congressional committees” had “reviewed” administration emails about the evolution of the talking points “several months ago” and “concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.”
That’s certainly not what we heard last week. Just when did which congressional committee clear the administration on preparation of the talking points?
The president is getting deeper into trouble. He must come clean by revealing who directed the CIA to remove the language about terrorism and who authorized that person or persons to so direct the CIA.
He must disclose who prepared Susan Rice for the Sunday morning talk programs and directed her to say something that they knew at the time was untrue. And the president must explain to us, fully and in detail, why he was still wrongly blaming the attacks on the YouTube video weeks after they had taken place. Because the president’s strategy of a modified limited hangout won’t work any longer.