Obama: Huh, "I'm not familiar" with Benghazi whistleblowers being threatened

President Obama really strained credulity in his presser Tuesday morning when he claimed total ignorance of the Fox News report in which former deputy assistant attorney general Victoria Toensing, representing a State Department official who wants to testify about Benghazi, alleged that the Obama administration is deliberately obfuscating the process and has even threatened the Benghazi survivors/witnesses with their careers if they come forward.

ED HENRY: There are people in your own State Department saying they’ve been blocked from coming forward, that they survived the terror attack and they want to tell their story. Will you help them come forward and just say it once and for all?

OBAMA: I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody has been blocked from testifying. So, what I’ll do is i will find out what exactly you are referring to. What I’ve been very clear about from the start is that our job with respect to Benghazi has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure the U.S. embassies, not just in the Middle East but around the world, are safe and secure, and to bring those who carried it out to justice. But I’ll find out what exactly it is that you’re referring to.

Riiiiiiiight. So what you’re saying is, you had absolutely no idea about what, if they prove to be true, would be some extremely serious charges about blatantly corrupt law-breaking on whistleblower protections from your own administration? And you’re sure your answer isn’t just a desperately strategic attempt to make it sound like the Benghazi investigation is so very partisan and unimportant, and that these allegations are so baselessly absurd, that they didn’t even merit the White House’s attention? That’s mighty perplexing, considering that House Oversight Committee has asked the State Department for information on the process for clearing attorneys to receive sensitive or classified information from their clients in multiple letters, and have yet to get a response. Via Erik Wemple:

That information is critical to Toensing’s efforts, which she says she’s providing pro bono; she needs the requisite clearances to deal with the information that her client has to share. When she learned that Issa’s committee still hadn’t gotten word from State on Monday, she decided to dig into her toolkit. “When [Secretary of State John] Kerry didn’t get back to him by Monday, I said, ‘That’s it, man. I’m complaining.” …

A reporter yesterday put the issue before State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell:

QUESTION: “More broadly, I wonder if I could ask whether the Department is aware of any efforts by attorneys representing whistleblowers in the Benghazi case or, in fact, survivors of the Benghazi attacks who have sought any kinds of security clearances so that they can review documents in preparation for possible testimony on the matter.”

MR. VENTRELL: “I’m not aware of private counsel seeking security clearances or anything to that regard. But let me just take this opportunity to really underscore once again the unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency we provided Congress in terms of the Benghazi situation. …”

How’s that statement not a story? asks Toensing. …

If witnesses come out during the upcoming Congressional hearings with testimony that they’ve had their jobs held over their heads (yeesh, and let’s not forget whatever it is that these whistleblowers might have to reveal about the actual Benghazi attack), it is not going to be pretty for the White House. In that situation I suppose President Obama’s best defense would be to plead ignorance and sacrifice the pawns on the lower rungs of the administrative ladder — but if they can manage to avoid sullying themselves with culpability at any level, you can bet that they will. You really have to hand it to them on strategy: Why comply when the willing media, wrapped around Obama’s little finger, will eagerly remake every new Benghazi development into a story about Republicans on a partisan witch hunt?

Whatever the real scenario might be, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa is not impressed with President Obama’s showing of less-than-robust commitment to defending potential whistleblowers:

“A lawyer for Benghazi whistleblowers has publicly stated that the State Department is blocking her client’s ability to talk freely with counsel.  Over the past two weeks, I have sent four letters requesting that this Administration make information available about how lawyers – who already have security clearances and are representing Benghazi whistleblowers – can be cleared to fully hear their clients’ stories. I have yet to receive any response from the Obama Administration.

“Even if the President really doesn’t know anything about someone wanting to come forward, his position should be that whistleblowers deserve protection and that anyone who has different information about Benghazi is free to come forward to Congress.  The President’s unwillingness to commit himself to protecting whistleblowers only aids those in his Administration who are intimidating them.”

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