We didn’t get to this yesterday, but it’s definitely worth watching — especially for the skill shown by Lindsey Graham in his examination of Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey. The headline takeaway will be what is remembered most: the revelation that Barack Obama never bothered to keep in touch with his chair of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense after being informed that an American consulate was under attack from terrorists.
But if that’s all you hear from this, you’re missing the big picture. Graham managed to elicit a number of damaging statements from the two. Not one aircraft had been deployed during the attack; not one boot left the ground outside of Libya. As far as the 281 concurrent threat reports that Panetta and Dempsey claimed kept them from considering Benghazi a special threat, Graham asks how many of those cables came from US Ambassadors stating specifically (as Stevens’ did) that an American installation was incapable of defending itself against a sustained attack and that government buildings nearby were flying al-Qaeda flags — “because I want to know about them, if they do,” Graham adds. Dempsey tries to push that off to State, at which time Graham informs Dempsey that Hillary Clinton claimed never to have seen that cable, even though Dempsey clearly had, which he admits is “surprising.”
Graham then circles back to the lack of action from the White House once the attack was under way:
SEN. GRAHAM: Are you surprised that the president of the United States never called you, Secretary Panetta, and say, ‘how’s it going?’
SEC. PANETTA: I — you know, normally in these situations –
SEN. GRAHAM: Did he know the level of threat that –
SEC. PANETTA: Let — well, let me finish the answer. We were deploying the forces. He knew we were deploying the forces. He was being kept updated –
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I hate to interrupt you, but I got limited time. We didn’t deploy any forces. Did you call him back — wait a minute –
SEC. PANETTA: No, but the event — the event was over by the time we got –
SEN. GRAHAM: Mr. Secretary, you didn’t know how long the attack would last. Did you ever call him and say, Mr. President, it looks like we don’t have anything to get there anytime soon?
SEC. PANETTA: The event was over before we could move any assets.
SEN. GRAHAM: It lasted almost eight hours. And my question to you is during that eight-hour period, did the president show any curiosity about how’s this going, what kind of assets do you have helping these people? Did he ever make that phone call?
SEC. PANETTA: Look, there is no question in my mind that the president of the United States was concerned about American lives and, frankly, all of us were concerned about American lives.
SEN. GRAHAM: With all due respect, I don’t believe that’s a credible statement if he never called and asked you, are we helping these people; what’s happening to them? We have a second round, and we’ll take it up then.
Graham just demolished the entire White House defense on Benghazi in less than ten minutes of cross-examination.