All-Star Panel: National intelligence director in the crosshairs over Libya

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


SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R – N.H.: Let's not forget, Ambassador Rice went on each show, every major news network five days later, but it wasn't just Ambassador Rice. The president in his interview with CBS the day following the attack, on Univision, on "The David Letterman Show", and, most troubling, before United Nations, did not call it a terrorist attack.


SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR: Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. And here is Democrat Congressman Representative Adam Schiff. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee over on the House side he said "To anyone who was listening, it was clear from General Petraeus and other intelligence officials who testified last week that the talking points were amended to protect classified sources of information, and were not subject to political spin by the White House or ambassador to the U.N. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now confirmed this once again, stating that there were no substantive changes made to the talking points after they left the intelligence committee."

We're now back with our panel, and I'll start with Mara. Do you think that the circle is tightening around who actually made the substantive changes now?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think that the DNI Director Clapper is going to have to explain, he now says he made them, or the intelligence community made them.  He is now going to have to explain why he made them and why he said earlier that they hadn't made them. But I think that this will be explained.

But it's interesting because Senator Ayotte neglected to mention that in that CBS interview later, a clip came out of Clinton saying that it might very well end up being terrorists. So even though CBS aired the part of the interview seeming to talk about video he mentioned it could have been terrorism, too. So I don't think that's a full description of his interview. But yes, Clapper is now going to have to come up with an explanation of why the intelligence community seems to have changed its story about the talking points.

BREAM: Because, other folks who heard from him behind closed doors and chief among them, Representative Rogers has said he gave us a different story last time we heard from him behind closed doors in Congress. So what does that suggest to you, Juan? Was he lying then? Was he lying now? Was there never a lie?  Is it semantics?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I think a lot of this is semantics, but of course we're in the midst of a political fray here over the entire episode. And there's people on the Republican side who see this as tremendously damaging to President Obama, the Obama administration and to their claim of foreign policy mastering the terrorists and Al Qaeda.

But let's just look at semantic, since you point that out Shannon. Because the semantics are very important here. The difference is that in the document that Susan Rice was basing her remarks on, she used the term "extremists" instead of "Al Qaeda." "Extremists." So "extremists" could include a range of people including Al Qaeda, but, of course, we know that Ansar al-Sharia which was in Libya has some ties to Al Qaeda. It's not clear that they were taking directions from Al Qaeda. But again, it's the difference between saying specifically we know this was an Al Qaeda attack or extremists.

The second thing is, they did not say we know it's Al Qaeda. They said there are indications that it might be Al Qaeda. So again, that is the difference. That's semantics, but to some people it is now the point of great controversy.

BREAM: OK, if we are talking about changing a word, "Al Qaeda" versuse "extremists," that kind of thing, what about the video? Who included that? That's what we need to know.CHARLES

KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  That's the point. It's not that there was one word change and "Al Qaeda" became "extremist." That would almost be irrelevant. It's that the story she told was a false narrative. It was about a mob inspired by a video. And we know, Catherine Herridge reported, the FBI knew two days earlier by asking the ones who had been in Libya embassy, the ones that we evacuated. I mean in the Benghazi consulate. We evacuated them. They were on the scene. They saw what happened. They told the FBI there was no demonstration at all. It's a fiction.

So the whole story she told -- a demonstration got out of control, extremists or Al Qaeda, who cares (INAUDIBLE). It is false. That is what we're asking about. How do you go from the intelligence community telling people on the Friday before that this was a terrorist attack to a completely false story on the Sunday two days later that it was a video? That is the question. Who changed it? And Clapper is saying he changed a word. That means nothing. First of all, he said last week he didn't, nobody has any idea who changed anything, so now he's changed his story. And Senator McCain has said exactly that. There was a change in story. But even if it's only, if he can explain that, there is the bigger question. The whole narrative changed.

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BREAM: That is, you know, more than just a word change. But because you mentioned Senator McCain let me just read what he said. He says, "I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events of Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them -- including the director of national intelligence himself -- told us they did not know who made the changes." Bill, where does that leave us?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think it leaves us as Charles said, with the administration having misled the country for two weeks, pretty purposefully, I think, with this ludicrous narrative about a video and a spontaneous demonstration, which is just false.

Now, OK that happened. We now know pretty much, the truth, which was that it was a pretty well-organized terrorist attack which unfortunately succeeded. I do think it would benefit everyone to get back to debating what the strength of the terrorist groups is in Benghazi, what we should be doing about it, whether this is a consequence of a light footprint foreign policy in Benghazi, in Libya and elsewhere, and so forth. At some point, you know, we can go to Clapper, we can go to the White House.  I'm not sure how – whether we'll ever find out exactly who told Ambassador Rice to say what she said or who made the determination within the administration, that "let's go with the video narrative." It was obviously politically convenient to them.  It was two months before an election. I'm willing to put two and two together and say this was a politically convenient narrative.

BREAM: Thanks, panel. That is it for the panel, but stay tuned for more on the president's travel to southeast Asia and what was waiting for him when he got home.