ARB, Benghazi, Clinton, Conspiracy, Darrell Issa, Hillary Clinton, Obama, Resources Wars, United States Department of State, United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, White House
Benghazi Crossfire: Can White House And State Dept. Dodge Their Own Bullet Talking Points?
Is all of this Benghazi scandal stuff just a political Republican “witch-hunt” to attack Hillary? Hey, if this comes across as an unseemly metaphor, I’m just quoting lots of lefty pundits including a ThinkProgress article titled “National Security Brief: House GOP Plans to Carry on Benghazi Witch-Hunt”. Or as Eugene Robinson observed in an Investor’s Business Daily op-ed: “The only coherent purpose I can discern in all this is to sully Clinton’s record as secretary of state in case she runs for president in 2016.”
Democrats charge that Republicans are pushing investigations aimed at politically discrediting former Secretary of State Clinton who is broadly seen as a leading 2016 presidential contender. They point out that the Obama administration has already provided 25,000 pages of documentation, has testified at eight hearings, and has held 20 briefings in addition to cooperating with an “independent” State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe.
Holding the Accountability Review Board Accountable:
Republicans argue that the purpose of the ongoing investigations is to find the truth in a tangled web of defensive deceptions. They believe that the ARB, which was appointed by Mrs. Clinton, didn’t dig deeply enough and that serious questions remain. Lawmakers have criticized the ARB panel for not interviewing top administration officials, very much including former Secretary of State Clinton.
The three “whistleblowers” who testified this month before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Gregory Hicks, Mark Thompson, and Eric Nordstrom, all observed that the ARB panel appeared to fix blame on career professionals below appointed ranks, whereby those responsible have not been held to account. Its apparent purpose was to protect top level State Department officials…the secretary, the deputy and under secretaries.
Mark Thompson testified that he had requested to be interviewed by the Accountability Review Board appointed by the State Department to investigate the entire Benghazi matter, but was never asked. Hicks was interviewed for about two hours, but reported that no stenographer was there, and that although he held an appropriate clearance, he was not allowed to review the classified transcript for accuracy or to offer corrections.
Hicks had previously told investigators: “The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS [Diplomatic Security] assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level. Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were made above his level.”
Fox News has previously reported that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General is currently investigating the ARB to determine why they failed to interview key witnesses who asked to provide their accounts…and also why they failed to single out any individual officials for violating procedures and did not recommend any disciplinary actions. Leaders of the study, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chief of Staff, and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering have already been asked to testify before a future congressional hearing.
On May 8, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) demanded the release of emails that will show that the Obama administration had political motives for intentionally overlooking earlier reports that the Benghazi attack was terrorism-related. “The goal here is to get to the truth. The reason this is still underway is because the White House has done everything possible to block access to information that would outline the truth. And the question you have to ask is why.”
Script Writers and Actors Behind the Curtains:
Ongoing congressional inquiries can be expected to harvest testimony from a number of White House and State Department actors currently identified in connection with strategic Benghazi decisions, reporting, and talking point revisions to determine who may have given them their scripts.
Clear evidence directly contradicts White House spokesman Jay Carney’s November 28, 2012 statement: “Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened.” He had added that: “The White House and State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of these two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate was inaccurate’.”
Questioned recently about these revisions, Carney described them as a routine example of the “deliberative” editing process of such memos, in which “there is always input by agencies.” He described the edits as “stylistic” and “inconsequential”, insisting that the White House only made one minor change to the original CIA talking points, and that “the other discussions that went on prior to this in an interagency process reflected the concerns of a variety of agencies who had a stake in this issue.”
Carney said that the various agencies were being cautious to not include “speculative” information, and that while “we believed, based on the intelligence assessment, that extremists were involved, and there were suspicions about what affiliations those extremists might have,” that information was excluded from the final document because “there was not hard, concrete evidence.”
When a reporter pointed out that one talking point that did make it on the list – the notion that the attack might have been related to a demonstration was also speculative “cherry picking”, and turned out to be wrong, Carney responded: “Well I think, again, you’re — no, because this — I mean, I would ask the CIA,” He added: “The CIA — well, one thing that’s consistent throughout the material that, you know, was provided to John and others is that from the beginning that was in the — the talking points that the CIA was prepared to disseminate. And it was based on what they thought they knew at the time.”
Hillary’s State Department spokesperson, loyal soldier, and yes, former Dick Cheney aide Victoria Nuland, provides a different account. We now know that those talking points went through 12 revisions, ultimately redacting references to information which tended to put the State Department’s judgments and actions in a bad light.
About 100 interagency emails released last Wednesday, the tip of a proverbial iceberg, show that there was extensive back-and-forth debate between the State Department and CIA regarding those revisions, with State playing the dominant role. One communication from an unknown official said “The State Department had major reservations with much or most of the document.” Then-CIA Director General David Petraeus noted concern regarding information that was scrubbed at the insistence of State, saying “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this then…this is certainly not what Vice Chairman [C.A.Dutch] Ruppenberger was hoping to get for [unclassified] use.”
Petraeus’ concerns centered upon the striking of earlier references to involvement by “Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida”, and to prior attacks in the region and Agency warnings. The final version said only that “extremists” participated. A page of hand-written notes from his deputy Mike Morell scratched out all references to al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya, Islamic extremists, and a warning to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the eve of the attacks of calls for a demonstration. Officials later acknowledged that there was no protest in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
Investor’s Business Daily reported last Friday that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor (read as White House), were alerted that the talking points being drafted still included references to extremists tied to al-Qaida and an “attack” as late as 3:04 p.m. on Sept. 14. The terms “al-Qaida” and “attack” were then stripped out by 4:42 p.m., shortly after Vietor thanked colleagues for the revisions and said they would be vetted “here”, (as in the White house). He then forwarded “edits” from John Brennan who was then a White House counterterrorism advisor.
IBD observes that Brennan did indeed play a key revisionist role. On Sept. 15 he led a White House meeting with security aides where the final talking point version that was fed to Susan Rice was crafted. President Obama subsequently nominated Brennan to head the CIA, and he was confirmed by a clueless Congress. Republicans agreed to stop delaying his confirmation vote in exchange for White House emails that still remain missing.
There can no longer be any doubt of close collaboration between CIA, State and the White House in concocting the talking point deception. In an email to White House officials and intelligence agencies, Nuland wanted statements about previous terrorist actions excised from official talking points which “could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”. The original CIA draft reported: ”we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Sharia participated in the attack.” The statement was deleted.
In a newly-released email, Nuland expresses “serious concerns” about saying that the administration knew there were extremists among demonstrators which “will come back at podium”. She worried that some would question how the administration already knew that. She said she would “need answers” if that line was used. Assistant Secretary of State David S. Adams voiced agreement, stating that a line about prior incidents “will read to members like we had repeated warnings.”
Yet during a September 17, 2012 press conference, Nuland told reporters that what Ambassador Rice said on the Sunday talk shows was “very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened.” Referring to a question: “You would acknowledge, however, that the account of the events, the preliminary account of the events that Ambassador Rice offered, diverges starkly from the account offered by the Libyan President, correct?” she replied, “Well, we’ve heard a number of different things from Libya. I would simply say that what – the comments that Ambassador Rice made accurately reflect our government’s initial assessment.”
Congressional investigators at future hearings are certain to have lots of questions for Hillary’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills who has been very close to the Clintons for decades. Mills helped to run interference with congressional investigators on Bill Clinton’s “bimbo eruptions” as his White House Legal Counsel. She later served as legal counsel for Hillary’s presidential campaign.
Mills ordered Gregory Hicks not to meet alone with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) when he visited Libya following the attack. She was angry after he reported having done so because a State Department attorney was kept out of a classified meeting. When asked whether he’d ever been told before not to meet with a congressional delegation, he answered, “Never”.
Mills is a battle-hardened Clinton family defender. In 1998 she allegedly crossed the line in her dealings with the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee which found it necessary to send a criminal referral to the Justice Department requesting that Mills be prosecuted for lying under oath and for concealing documents sought under subpoena which would have been damaging to the White House. That information included whether government computers and federal employees had been used to compile a database of donors that was passed on to the Clinton/Gore campaign. After being questioned under oath and denying withholding of subpoenaed papers, the committee concluded she had committed perjury to cover up her initial obstruction of justice.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Beth Jones, can expect lawmakers to inquire why she “dressed down” former Libya Deputy Chief of Mission/Charge d’ Affairs Gregory Hicks for questioning the talking points put out by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday talk shows. Hicks recently testified: “Jones counseled me on my management style, she said staff was upset. She delivered a very blistering critique of my management style and said, ‘I don’t know why [Libya Charge d’Affairs] Larry Pope would want you back’. I asked her why the ambassador said there was a demonstration when the embassy reported there was an attack.” Hicks continued: “The sense I got is that I needed to stop my line of questioning.”
Yet Beth Jones had sent an email on September 12, the day after the attack, in which she indicated that “the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”
A key figure for future questioning will undoubtedly be Charlene Lamb, the State Department official who was allegedly responsible for denying repeated requests for Benghazi security who has since “resigned”. Lamb was stationed in Washington following real-time, electronically-monitored developments during the attack provided, in part, by drones circling overhead.
The top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, told House oversight committee members that Lamb told him that reasons for security reductions were political. After she demanded over the phone that requests for more security not be made, those stationed in Benghazi wisely did so anyway: “All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources. In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Lamb] ‘You cannot request an [Site Security Team] SST extension.’ I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway. Once the first team of [temporary personnel] expired, there was a complete and total lack of planning for what was going to happen next. There was no plan, there was just hope that everything would get better.”
Lamb argued that reducing the number of security personnel from 34 to just three diplomatic security agents was justified: “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11.”
The uberliberal ThinkProgress charges that the fact that four “top officials” were removed from their jobs as a result of Benghazi is “not enough for House Republicans” because “Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) thinks there’s more to the story”, noting that he called the ARB’s report “insufficient” because investigators didn’t formally question then-Secretary of State Clinton and her two top deputies. The White House clearly agrees, as President Obama charged during a May 13th news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron that Republican lawmakers are merely using Benghazi to create a “political circus” to raise campaign cash…one which would “dishonor” U.S. personnel.
Obama claimed that misstatements by Susan Rice regarding the Benghazi attacks “pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at the time in my presidential daily briefing…The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.”
Sadly, investigations regarding misinformation concerning circumstances leading up to, during, and following the deaths of an ambassador and three other Americans hardly constitute an entertaining circus sideshow. There is nothing comical about repeated State Department security request dismissals following numerous terrorist incidents in the region just prior to the September 11 anniversary. There is nothing amusing about disconcerting questions regarding decisions not to deploy military assets during the assault, or revisions to reports which clearly obfuscated causes, responses and accountabilities.
Jay Carney said “Benghazi happened a long time ago.” We’re expected to assume that none of this could really have been that important. After all, it occurred before Obama’s successful reelection, proving that voters didn’t really care. As Hillary famously asked, “What difference, at this point, does it make?
Perhaps the best answer came from former embassy security chief, Eric Nordstrom. It matters because “the truth matters”. It matters that Hillary disingenuously told the family of Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods “we’re going to have that person arrested that did the video”, and promised to Patricia Smith, the mother of slain son Sean that officials would find out what happened and report back to her.
Regarding that “witch- hunt”, what happened in Benghazi matters to those who have reason to wonder why, if Hillary has claimed to accept responsibility on behalf of the State Department, she remains entirely content to let underlings take the hard falls. And if Mrs. Clinton does happen to become a leading presidential candidate next time around, all of this should legitimately come to matter even a whole lot more.