The surest sign that there is indeed no there there regarding the Benghazi “scandal”? The fact that anonymous GOP staff feeding information to reporters apparently felt the need to edit the White House emails they were onpassing. It’s a bad sign for scandal-mongerers if they feel the need to punch up their supposed evidence.
At issue is the email document trail behind the talking points the administration promulgated in the days after the September 11, 2012 attack at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Since virtually the first instant of the attack, the GOP has fixated on it as being sort of a scandal, with the currently popular iteration suggesting that the initial administration spin was an effort to cover up the fact that terrorist elements were involved in the attacks.
Last week a Republican operative or operatives leaked what were portrayed as quotes from emails – which the White House had not released – which purported to show that the White House and State Department had nefariously pushed to have references to terrorist involvement expunged from the administration’s talking points.
But on Wednesday the White House released 100 pages of the emails covering the evolution of the talking points (scroll to the bottom to read them yourself, courtesy of the Huffington Post). Then CBS News’ Major Garrett issued a report last night under the headline “WH Benghazi emails have different quotes than earlier reported.” Garrett goes on to detail the differences between the leaked GOP versions of the emails and what was actually written.
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”
But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”
He goes on to note a similar change in an email then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sent. The GOP version has her worried about “previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.” But the actual email she sent doesn’t mention the terrorist group at all.
As the Huffington Post reports, CBS isn’t the first news outlet to note the differences between the real emails and the versions leaked by Republicans:
The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.
Of course, there’s no reason why malice and incompetence need be competing alternatives. In fact incompetent malice seems likely: This was a ham handed attempt to produce “evidence” of a scandal where there is none.
Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum sums up:
This has always been the Republican Party’s biggest risk with this stuff: that they don’t know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn’t have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it’s driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it’s time to start impeachment proceedings.
It’s no wonder that GOP leaders are urging their colleagues to throttle back and let the scandals that flared up this week play out before, like Bachmann, calling for impeachment hearings. The real scandal regarding Benghazi, of course, doesn’t involve talking points but funding streams. As former diplomat Ronan Farrow writes in the Atlantic:
Hillary Clinton waged a losing fight with Congress for embassy security resources over the course of the first Obama administration. Some of the ringleaders of last week’s hearing were among the prominent opponents to that spending, with Representative Chaffetz and Representative Darrell Issa joining to cut nearly half a billion dollars from the State Department security accounts that cover armored vehicles, security systems, and guards. In Fiscal Year 2011, House Republicans cut $128 million from the Obama Administration’s requests for embassy security funding; in 2012, they cut another $331 million. Issa once personally voted to cut almost 300 diplomatic security positions. In 2011, after one of many fruitless trips to the Hill to beg House Republicans for resources, an exhausted, prophetic Hillary Clinton warned that cuts to embassy spending “will be detrimental to America’s national security.” Democrats, like Senator Barbara Boxer in a heated speech this week, have been quick to paint opposition to security funding as exclusively Republican. The truth is, it is a bipartisan failure, repeated through years of both Republican and Democratic control of Congress. In 2010, Democrats cut $142 million from the Administration’s requests for State Department funding.
But why would House Republicans – obsessed as they are with their twin goals of getting Obama and Hillary Clinton and cutting spending – pursue an investigation into dangerous spending cuts pushed by Congress and fought by Secretary Clinton?
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/156800521/White-House-Documents-Relating-to-Events-in-Benghazi-Libya -Courtesy The Huffington Post
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 17, 2013
The American Psychiatric Association’s latest handbook — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — is about to be published. It is the handbook of mental health, and if you’re not in it, you are among the fortunate few. Even though the hour is late, I beseech the DSM’s publishers to consider one additional entry, the seriousness of which will be apparent to anyone who watches Fox News: Benghazi Syndrome.
Benghazi Syndrome is a grave malady of the noggin, the symptoms of which are a compulsion to grossly exaggerate matters and to compare almost anything to Watergate (see Watergate Syndrome, DSM-IV). Patient Zero in this regard is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a usually affable Republican from South Carolina who has suggested that the Benghazi episode warrants an investigation by a special congressional committee, just like Iran-contra and — drum roll, please — Watergate.
Others have gone even further. Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a man who once suggested the Environmental Protective Agency has something in common with the Gestapo, called the Benghazi whatchamacallit the “most egregious cover-up in American history” and possibly an impeachable offense. These charges are so serious we can only conclude that l’affaire Benghazi has the potential to bring down the Obama administration — the proverbial thread that, if pulled, could unravel the entire garment. Such drama!
So what is Benghazi? It is the place in Libya where the United States maintained two installations — a consulate and a much larger CIA outpost. Both of these were attacked on Sept. 11, 2012, a date of some significance. The assaults, we all now know, were conducted by a jihadist group and were not — as the Obama administration initially maintained — a spur-of-the-moment thing precipitated by the airing of an anti-Muslim video. We also know that the administration either was unsure of the facts or simply didn’t like them. So it knitted together the infamous talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice repeated on all the Sunday talk shows. Aside from “good morning,” little of what she said was true.
President Obama was then really Candidate Obama and he surely did not want the words “terrorist attack” uttered during the presidential campaign. In addition, the CIA and the State Department were in a cat fight and could not agree on the wording of the talking points — or even, from a fair reading of their clashing e-mails, who the fanatical enemy was: al-Qaeda or members of Congress?
In all this, it’s almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi. The event was a tragedy and it hardly matters, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vociferously maintained, if the attack occurred spontaneously or was planned. Either way, it was a success for the terrorists and a debacle for the United States.
It is good to find out how this happened — who’s responsible for the inadequate security, etc. — and it is also good to hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement. But the record will show that a thorough report was, in fact, compiled. Its authors were Thomas Pickering, an esteemed retired diplomat, and Adm. Mike Mullen, an equally esteemed retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They found the standard mistakes and snafus — but no crime.
Watergate, though, was a crime. Iran-contra was a crime. Government officials were convicted and some of them went to jail. Fudging a press release is not a crime. Compromising on wording is not a crime. Making a decision — even if wrong — that there was no time to call in the cavalry is not a crime. And having inadequate security is not only not a crime but partly a consequence of congressional budget cuts.
It is not a crime either to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this particular one is constructed of a fetid combination of bad taste and poisonous politics. Dig down a bit and it becomes clear that some — many? — Republicans suspect that Barack Obama and-or Hillary Clinton are capable of letting people die to cover up a terrorist attack. Either that, or this is what they want us to think.
In the end, it all comes down to an irrational and absolutely rabid dislike of Obama that so clouds judgment that utterly preposterous statements are uttered, usually within the precincts of the Fox News studios. This, as you might have guessed, is classic Benghazi Syndrome. There is no known cure.
By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 13, 2013
President Obama hosted another White House press conference this morning, this time standing alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, and addressed the stories that seem to be dominating the political world’s attention.
On the IRS matter, for example, the president joined the bipartisan chorus, insisting that those responsible must be held “fully accountable.” Obama added, “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it…. I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”
But it was the president’s comments on Benghazi that were of particular interest.
Obama appeared eager to resolve the matter once and for all. This is a little long, but it’s worth your time:
“The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow….[T]he emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story. There’s no ‘there’ there.
“Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred, pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing. And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill, and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.
“So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that in fact has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.
“Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So the whole thing defies logic. And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations…. They’ve used it for fund-raising.”
These arguments have the added benefit of being true.
If you go through every lingering argument from the right on Benghazi, what we’re left with is one thing: the multiple drafts of the talking points. That’s it. That’s the “scandal.”
And what do the talking points tell us? That there was bureaucratic infighting between State and the CIA. Why is that scandalous? It’s not.
What’s more, I talked to a senior administration official this morning who confirmed with me that there was a March 19 briefing in which all of these materials were shared with House lawmakers. The meeting , led by the General Counsel of the DNI, Robert Litt, included aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and all of the members of the House Intelligence Committee and their staffs. After the briefing, no one, in either party, considered the email drafts controversial.
Two months later, however, we’re supposed to perceive this as Watergate?
There’s no great mystery here — congressional Republicans are manufacturing an outrage, in part to undermine the White House, in part because they hope to tarnish Hillary Clinton, and in part because the GOP sees value in riling up its base for fundraising purposes.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2013
“A Former Cheney Aide Married To A Romney Adviser”: Meet The Woman At The Center Of The Benghazi Controversy
After ABC News released emails detailing the evolution of the Obama administration’s talking points on the Benghazi terror attack, much of the right’s ire has focused on Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson who asked for the removal of references to al-Qaida and the CIA’s warnings about the dangers to U.S. diplomats in Libya.
With her name splashed all over the emails and her very public role in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, Nuland serves the useful dual role of scapegoat and proxy for the potential 2016 presidential candidate, who may be the real target of conservative uproar over Benghazi. Naturally, critics ascribe political motives to Nuland’s actions in the Benghazi aftermath. “It’s very clear today that lib Victoria Nuland was not honest with reporters,” conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote.
But Nuland may prove to be a poor choice of left-wing villain for the right considering that her record suggests she’s anything but a Saul Alinskyite. In fact, she came under attack from the left when Clinton chose her as spokesperson because she had previously served as a senior adviser to Dick Cheney. Yes, that Dick Cheney, leading antiwar blogger Marcy Wheeler to call her a “former Cheney hack.”
Meanwhile, Nuland is married to Washington Post columnist and neoconservative historian Robert Kagan, who helped sell the case for the Iraq War, advised both Mitt Romney and John McCain’s presidential campaigns, and co-founded the Project for a New American Century think tank with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Obama has spoken fondly of some of Kagan’s work as well, but his credentials in the conservative foreign policy establishment are unimpeachable.
This is not to say that Nuland is some kind of neoconservative plant as some liberals have claimed. Nuland has a distinguished career in the Foreign Service going back almost 30 years, holding senior positions under presidents of both parties. If she has any political views, she’s kept them to herself, refraining from making any donations to political campaigns or speaking publicly about domestic elections.
In an interview with the Brown Alumni Magazine, Nuland compared the Foreign Service to the military, suggesting she views the role apolitically. And while she praised Clinton, she said she expected to leave the job after John Kerry took over. “Like all good foreign service officers,” she said, “I go back in the pool, and see what they might want me to do.”
Nuland may, however, be a closet hipster, with an affinity for Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 13, 2013
Hillary Clinton was pissed. A Republican senator was accusing her of misleading the world about a raid on a diplomatic compound in Libya that killed four Americans.
“With all due respect,” the then-secretary of state snapped at Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, “The fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?”
“What difference at this point does it make?”
In the overheated echo chamber of Washington, if not elsewhere, it made a difference during that January hearing. This was, after all, a mano-a-mano, nationally televised confrontation between partisan Republicans and a famously divisive Democrat concluding a celebrated tour as loyal aide to President Obama, the man who vanquished her for the 2008 presidential nomination.
And it makes perhaps even more of a difference after a Capitol Hill melodrama last week in which the deadly terrorist attack was recounted with fresh, even chilling, details that begged the ultimate question:
What does the tragic Sept. 11, 2012 death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others amount to, if anything, for either Obama or for Clinton if she runs for President in 2016?
What Republicans believed was a two-legged smoking gun came in the form of Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 diplomat at our embassy in Tripoli. Appearing before a House oversight panel, he was introduced with fanfare by Republican Darrell Issa of California, whose self-image as a national security expert may partly stem from parlaying a car alarm business into the largest personal fortune in Congress.
Hicks recounted a conversation with the leader of a Special Operations team in Tripoli, furious when ordered not to fly to Benghazi after the attack. He said he was rebuked by superiors for talking to a GOP congressman who visited Libya later.
Finally, he said, he was berated by Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and famously loyal former President Bill Clinton aide, for excluding a State Department lawyer from a meeting because the lawyer didn’t have the correct security clearance.
The capper was when Susan Rice, the UN ambassador, suggested on Sunday talk shows shortly after the attack that it was a result of protests over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube.
“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” said Hicks, who claimed that he has been essentially demoted since (which the State Department flatly denies).
Hicks was preaching to what amounted to a Republican choir which sees calculated deceit in the Rice appearance. They can’t fathom the possibility that it was something else, namely a ham-handed mix of confusion, ineptitude and political spin.
That’s all seemingly lost in the fog of a Washington political war. Among the casualties are context and some facts:
History. American government facilities are a sadly regular target for terrorists. There have been many dozens of attacks on U.S. embassies, consulates, military compounds and personnel since the 1979 takeover of our embassy in Tehran. The most deadly one resulted in the deaths of 241 servicemen after the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut.
But it is also true that since gaining a House majority in 2010, Republicans have sharply cut State Department budget requests for more embassy security funding. For fiscal 2012, they shaved the request by $331 million.
Self-criticism. State initiated an independent review of Benghazi led by Thomas Pickering, a revered former diplomat, and Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It eviscerated the department for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” that prompted “a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”
“Cover-up.” This is a constant GOP refrain, even belittling the Pickering-Mullen review as letting Clinton herself off the hook. A recent joint report by Republican leaders asserted that “the leadership failure in relation to security and policy in Benghazi extended to the highest levels of the State Department, including Secretary Clinton,” who left at the end of January.
The evidence is ambiguous at best and includes the mistake-filled fencing over whether Obama refused to call Benghazi a “terrorist” attack. Forgotten by many is that he used the term in his first public statement on Sept. 12. “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” he said in the Rose Garden.
Inexplicably, several key administration officials, including Vice President Biden and Rice, seem to have then dropped the term from their lexicons. Garrulous Biden improbably did not directly rebut Rep. Paul Ryan’s assertion in their vice-presidential debate that it “took the President two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.”
Talking points. The capital chattering class has spent much time parsing the confounding intricacies of the talking points given Rice for the Sunday TV interviews in which she said, “What this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what happened, transpired in Cairo,” where protesters at the U.S. embassy were outraged over the crude anti-Muslim video.
Jonathan Karl of ABC News sent Obama critics into a tizzy Friday with a report about State Department and White House memos intended to revise the talking points prior to the Rice appearances. His disclosures were quickly embraced by Obama-Clinton critics as further proof of skullduggery.
But, when asked later by Politico, Karl conceded, “There’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton was aware of what was going on, or in any way tried to direct what was in these talking points.”
Despite the clear impression of confusion, imprecision and bureaucratic fumbling – which are hallmarks of every administration since, well, Washington – some conservatives are unconvinced. Every rhetorical inconsistency is now viewed in the most suspicious light, much as Democrats would do if the shoe were on the other foot with a Republican White House.
Thus, Peter Feaver, a national security aide to President George W. Bush who now teachers public policy at Duke, contends that the slew of debatable internal memos point “pretty convincingly to the conclusion that there was willful misleading going on in the earliest days.”
Really? Might it not simply be what Feaver admits can be “tolerable spin and understandable fog-of-war confusion in the face of conflicting reports”?
In the end, so much of the critics’ ire is directed at Clinton, a catalytic figure once again presumed to be the frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination if she wants it.
That’s no surprise to journalist-historian David Maraniss, biographer of both Bill Clinton and Obama and a longtime Hillary observer.
Assessing her Benghazi performance, and the whole Washington scene, he finds “the same old murky convergence of Clintonian defensiveness, especially via Cheryl Mills, and GOP overreaction via Rep. Issa et al.”
Bingo, a sense of history and context.
Such a perspective explains why the whole contretemps is notable not just for the noise it generates in the Washington echo chamber but also for some conspicuous silence.
Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, says Pew is in the field right now doing polling on the issue. But he suspects it is flying below the radar screen of most Americans.
Then there’s one of the most sober and thoughtful Republicans on foreign policy, former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, long a stalwart on the foreign relations committee.
Though Stevens was an admired former Lugar staffer, Lugar has neither condoned nor condemned U.S. actions in response to the Benghazi attack. And a former Republican staffer on that committee underscored his own bottom line:
“This is not Iran-Contra,” he said, alluding to the bonafide Reagan era scandal in which secret arms sales to Iran were used to fund anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
“These were people here in a dangerous position trying to do the best they could,” said the former staffer. “There were probably real communications issues. Rice knew when going on air this all didn’t add up. In retrospect she should have simply said, ‘It simply wasn’t clear what was happening.’ That would have taken care of it.”
Team Obama fumbled. And Republicans saw an opportunity to diminish Obama and Clinton. It was a twofer, with Benghazi serving as a potential real-time version of the nastily effective “Swift Boat” attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
But it’s not having that same impact, and thus it’s folly to think this hurts Clinton’s chances if she chooses to run. Tom Bowen, a shrewd Democratic consultant in Chicago, says, “The idea that one of the most popular secretaries of state to serve this country will be damaged by revisions of ‘talking points’ is foolhardy.”
Yes, four Americans killed in a terrorist attack is nothing to be flip about. But voters by and large understand that the world is a dangerous place — and there are plenty of narratives that fall far short of being deemed Nixonian.
There is a desperate lack of perspective in Washington and, quite improbably, the Benghazi episode suggests it’s actually getting worse.
By: James Warren, New York Daily News, May 12, 2013