WaPo fact checker: Who rewrote the Benghazi talking points?

posted at 10:01 am on May 7, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Give Glenn Kessler credit; he was almost alone among the mainstream media in immediately calling Susan Rice’s explanation of the attack on the Benghazi consulate fishy, awarding her two Pinocchios at the time. (Perhaps not too much credit, says Ann Althouse, via Instapundit.)  Should that get bumped up now that whistleblowers are prepared to blow the Obama administration’s fairy tale on Benghazi out of the water?  Kessler argues, correctly, that the better question is who crafted the four-Pinocchio lie, and to what purpose:

Some readers have suggested we should boost the Pinocchio rating for Rice’s comments. Still, it is clear Rice was simply mouthing the words given to her. The bigger mystery now is who was involved in writing — and rewriting — the talking points.

The talking points have become important because, in the midst of President Obama’s reelection campaign, for a number of days they helped focus the journalistic narrative on an anti-Islam video — and away from a preplanned attack. As we noted in our timeline of administration statements, it took two weeks for the White House to formally acknowledge that Obama believed the attack was terrorism. …

The version as of Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2012, was rather fulsome, saying that “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack” and mentioning the militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

But a senior State Department official — identified by the Weekly Standard as State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland — strongly objected to this draft. The CIA made some changes but apparently it was not enough. Nuland said in an e-mail that the edits did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership” and that the State Department’s leadership “was consulting with [National Security Staff.]”

Minutes later, a White House official (said to be Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications) e-mailed to say that the State Department’s concerns would need to be addressed and the issue would be resolved at a meeting the next day at the White House.

The result, after the meeting, was a wholesale rewriting of the talking points. The House report says “the actual edits, including deleting all references to al-Qaeda, were made by a current high-ranking CIA official,” which the Weekly Standard identifies as Deputy Director Mike Morell.

Oddly, in November, three GOP senators released a statement saying that Morell had told them that the references to al-Qaeda had been removed by the FBI — but then six hours later the CIA contacted them to say Morell “misspoke” and instead the CIA had actually made those deletions. His own apparent role appears not to have been mentioned.

Kessler’s right, but his scope is too narrow.  The rewrite has always appeared to be a cover-up from the White House and/or State Department — and make no mistake, the CIA wouldn’t be carrying water for Hillary Clinton and State.  The big question is: what were they trying to cover?  In my column for The Week, I argue that the context is much broader, and it’s perhaps even more relevant today than ever:

Recall that the attack took place in the middle of the general election, just a couple of weeks after the party conventions. Obama and the Democrats had just argued that the administration’s foreign-policy successes, including the intervention in Libya, showed that America had a steady and seasoned commander-in-chief, and that voters should think twice before electing an untried Mitt Romney.

On the ground in Benghazi, however, the truth was that the sudden vacuum of power had liberated not eastern Libya but the Islamist terrorist networks that had long operated there. Militias competed with the weak central government’s forces for control of Benghazi, and terrorists ran much of what lay outside of the city. Other Western nations packed up their diplomatic installations and headed back to Tripoli, but not the United States. Instead, the U.S. kept its consulate open while reducing its security forces even in the face of intelligence of increasing danger, and escalating attacks on Western assets. …

To ask Clinton’s question again, what difference at this point would it have made? It’s possible that the team could have gotten on the ground in time to repel the second attack, although the timing would have been close. If the hearings focus on this one issue, though, it will miss the real failures in Benghazi.

The administration’s intervention in Libya created a power vacuum in eastern Libya, which it refused to acknowledge, and which eventually led not just to this attack but the near-sacking of Mali, which was prevented only by the French military. Instead, State under Clinton reduced the security at this outpost while our allies fled the city, even while nearby terrorist attacks increased. No one in State or the White House prepared for the obvious al Qaeda interest in attacking vulnerable American assets on the anniversary of 9/11. When the inevitable happened, rather than putting all our assets in play to fight the terrorists, the first impulse of Obama and Clinton seems to have been to deny that a terrorist attack had taken place at all as a means of covering up the gross incompetence of the past year in Libya.

With the administration beating war drums over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, if somewhat half-heartedly, a full and honest accounting of Benghazi and the Obama administration’s Libya policies in general makes a great deal of difference at this or any other point.

The point of the cover-up wasn’t just to preserve the argument that Barack Obama had fatally weakened al-Qaeda, which few really believed anyway.  It was to preserve the foreign-policy expertise argument in the 2012 presidential election, and to keep American voters from seeing the true scope of the disaster of Obama’s intervention in Libya.  And that matters even more now, with the same administration considering another 30,00o-foot intervention that would end up once again benefiting al-Qaeda affiliates on the ground.

Michael Ramirez argues that it matters in another way — that the cover-up of Benghazi is at least as bad as that of Watergate, and perhaps worse, since no one died in Watergate and we didn’t lose a consulate to terrorists:

ramirez-benghazi

Also, be sure to check out Ramirez’ terrific collection of his works: Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, which covers the entire breadth of Ramirez’ career, and it gives fascinating look at political history.  Read my review here, and watch my interviews with Ramirez here and here.  And don’t forget to check out the entire Investors.com site, which has now incorporated all of the former IBD Editorials, while individual investors still exist.


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