Benghazi, Obfuscation, and a Petulant President

President Barack Obama is introduced as he enters the East Room of the White House for a news conference, Nov. 14, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In nine long days since Election 2012 a downpour of news stories has flooded the American psyche. Magically, the stories held their water until the President’s reelection was history. Then they washed over the nation with torrential force. Yesterday, the President made news of his own, holding his first press conference in eight months and releasing the residual snarkiness that had built up over that period.

Imagine the odds. Within seventy-two hours of the President’s electoral victory, the campaign-weary nation got its bell rung twice. First, we learned about the United States surveillance drone that had been fired upon by Iranian warplanes—on November 1st. Why didn’t we hear this news before the election? According to Pentagon spokesperson, George Little, the surveillance mission was classified. You mean, classified like the Bin Laden kill that was splashed throughout the media before the body cooled? Had news organizations not preemptively reported the drone story, would we have heard about it at all?

Even the President’s “mistress,” the Grey Lady, thought the secrecy was problematic:

Even so [i.e., despite the mission’s being classified], the failure to disclose a hostile encounter with Iran’s military at a time of increased international tensions over the disputed Iranian nuclear program—and five days before the American presidential election—raises questions for the Obama administration.

The drone story was short-lived, thanks to David Petraeus’ stunning fall from grace. This blockbuster broke Friday, three days after the election, although it had been percolating for months. The press liked this story: its soap opera quality sells. So they are covering it with a dedication they never demonstrated over the Benghazi attack.

Amazingly, Petraeus was outed in the brief window between Election Day and the congressional hearings on Benghazi, at which he was to be a star witness. After much handwringing, it turns out he will testify, after all.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s presser. There was plenty of tough talk—not from hardboiled reporters, but from the President, who heaped obfuscation upon his mostly-compliant press pups. Never answering a question asked, he managed to stonewall for a solid hour, most notably on Benghazi.

Some good questions were asked, and fewer than a handful of reporters attempted to pin down the President. Kudos to them. Here are some highlights:

The AP’s Ben Feller teed up a critical aspect of the Petraeus issue. Feller asked, “Can you assure the American people that there have been no breaches of national security or classified information in the scandal involving Generals Petraeus and Allen?”

In a disclaimer-laden response, the President said:

Well, I have no evidence at this point, from what I’ve seen, that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security. Obviously, there’s an ongoing investigation. I don’t want to comment on the specifics of the investigation (emphasis mine).

OK, Mr. President. At this point, security breaches are a non-issue—at least from what you’ve seen. And in case one squeaked through, there was no negative impact on national security. Of course, there is an ongoing investigation which mysteriously bars your making any substantive remarks, at least according to the rules of the Obama Universe.

The rest of the presser revealed the same stunning opacity (oxymoronic, I know). Feller’s follow-up continued in the same vein: “…do you think that you, as commander in chief, and the American people should have been told that the CIA chief was under investigation before the election?”

Punt. “The FBI has its own protocols in terms of how they proceed. And you know, I’m going to let Director Mueller and others examine those protocols and make some statements to the public generally.” So, the President has no opinion about how the notification should have gone down?  Isn’t he the President? Don’t presidents have opinions?

Feller pressed the issue: “What about voters? Do they deserve to know?”

…I think you’re going to have to talk to the FBI in terms of what their general protocols are when it comes to what started off as a potential criminal investigation. And one of the challenges here is—is that we’re not supposed to meddle in, you know, criminal investigations. And that’s been our practice.…

The President’s reference to criminal investigations is a red herring used to cloak the issue. It refers to standards issued, not by the FBI, but by the Department of Justice under Michael Mucasy. The administration frequently claims that the protocol precludes the sharing of information that is part of a criminal investigation.

Mucasy refutes the argument as a distortion of the protocol. Mucasy decreed that the discussion of certain criminal matters should be handled by the attorney general and deputy attorney general, who are in no way restricted from speaking to the President. And if the criminal investigation involves matters of national security, anyone can discuss it with leadership. Moments before the President’s press conference, Mucasy explained the protocol in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News’ America Live:

…In cases involving national security considerations, anybody ought to be disclosing information to whoever needs to know it and just make sure you keep the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and the associate attorney general in the loop so that they can oversee any such communication.

With the help of the media and his Chicago team, the President kept the lid on the Benghazi disaster long enough to preserve his reelection. How long he sat on the Petraeus scandal remains to be seen. Post-election, he continues to throw roadblocks. But Benghazi is not going away. Jonathan Karl asked about Susan Rice and the possible nod to succeed Hillary Clinton:

Mr. President. Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham both said today that they want to have Watergate-style hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and said that if you nominate Susan Rice to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination. As Senator Graham said, he simply doesn’t trust Ambassador Rice after what she said about Benghazi. I’d like your reaction to that. And would those threats deter you from making a nomination like that?

The President erupted in indignation and added a dash of intimidation. Whether planned or not, he broke some real news:

…But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work.…As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her (emphasis mine).

Immediately, I and probably a million others, tweeted: “If Rice had ‘nothing to do with Benghazi,’ why was she sent out to do TV ‘at the request of [the White House]’?”

It took two months for President Obama to admit that Ambassador Rice (who in fact had nothing to do with Benghazi, operationally speaking) had been trotted out by the President with “the intelligence that had been provided to her.”

Provided, by whom? And, regardless of who provided the intelligence, Susan Rice was handpicked to deliver a message that had to be White House-approved.

Oops. The smartest guy in the room put his foot in his mouth. Undaunted, he proceeded to insult Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and, by implication, Senator Kelly Ayotte for daring to question the trustworthiness of a U.N. Ambassador who was willing to carry a tainted message. He puffed his chest and accused them of being bullies:

If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.…When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me (emphasis mine).

The President insulted his “enemies” and his U.N. Ambassador, painting her as a damsel in distress. Ewww… He was still not satisfied. So couched inside the above quote, where the ellipsis is, was another “slip” that revealed the political underpinnings of the Benghazi cover-up:

And you know, we’re after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I’m happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have, and we will continue to provide information. And we’ve got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.… (emphasis mine).

There it is: we’re after an election now. Gone are the protestations that the election was unrelated to the keeping of Benghazi’s secrets. And worse, if worse were possible, the President still claims to have cooperated fully. With whom has he cooperated fully? About what has he cooperated fully? Every disclosure made has been crosswise of every other one. Every player has a different story, and the story has changed daily, as though the deaths of Chris Stevens and three other brave men were beside the point.

No one in the administration has done one thing right by them or their families. No one—at least not yet.

Enter Ed Henry’s piercing question, as he followed up on a prior exchange. (Did I detect his voice cracking with emotion as he asked it?):

…I want to stay on Benghazi, based on what John (sp) asked, because you said, if they want to come after me, come after me. I wanted to ask about the families of these four Americans who were killed. Sean Smith’s father, Ray, said he believes his so basically called 911 for help, and they didn’t get it. And I know you’ve said you grieve for these four Americans, that it’s being investigated. But the families have been waiting for more than two months. So I would like to—for you to address the families, if you can: On 9/11, as commander in chief, did you issue any orders to try to protect their lives?

The President did not appreciate Henry’s question. Susan Rice’s Great Defender now used the families of the Benghazi dead and the “ongoing investigation” to shield himself from the truth:

Ed, you know, I’ll address the families not through the press. I’ll address the families directly, as I already have. And we will provide all the information that is available about what happened on that day. That’s what the investigation is for. But as I said repeatedly, if people don’t think that we did everything we can to make sure that we saved the lives of folks who I sent there, and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don’t know how our Defense Department thinks or our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks. Their number one priority is obviously to protect American lives. That’s what our job is (emphasis mine).

Who actually believes they “did everything” they could? The President has never given an account of what was or was not done. He has never described his role or listed the actions he took. His response to Ed Henry’s second question (which was off mic) fails as all previous responses have failed to clarify the events of September 11, 2012.

…I can tell you that immediately upon finding out that our folks were in danger, that my orders to my National Security team were do whatever we need to do to make sure they’re safe. And that’s the same order that I would give anytime that I see Americans are in danger, whether they’re civilian or military, because that’s our number one priority (emphasis mine).

“Whatever we need to do”—what does that mean? Surely, a gifted orator can describe his actions with more specificity than that. The reality is that the President and his team see themselves as entirely above the law and above accountability to anyone.

Commentary swirled today. Bob Beckel, in a discussion with his Fox News co-hosts of The Five, defended the President and criticized his detractors, claiming that they had scapegoated Susan Rice. Really? Wasn’t it the President who sent her to walk the plank and hang in the wind for two months?

Of course it was. But that was before he came out like her knight in shining armor.

All the obfuscation the President can muster will not change the truth about Benghazi. It will come out one way or the other. The administration has said repeatedly, that they will get to the bottom of this. Actually we the people will. There is no place for the President to hide.

Rush Limbaugh is exactly right: “Obama is the bottom of Benghazi.”

For more articles by this author, click here.

 

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Categories: Truth vs. Lies

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5 replies

  1. Good job, Donna. Your headline is damn close to something I would’ve written! ;-)

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