The OCD GOP yesterday held yet another hearing on the nonexistent crisis over the September 11, 2012, assault on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Yes, another one. Writing in The Washington Post, Dana Milbank called it “hearing number 1,372,569, give or take,” and it certainly seems that way. Even though a massive official report made it clear that there was no political conspiracy to hide the truth about Benghazi, even though an exhaustive investigative report in The New York Times laid out the sequence of events in a very convincing manner, and even though President Obama did indeed describe the assault as a “terror” attack immediately after it occurred, the obsessive-compulsives in the Republican party can’t let go.
This really is a big deal to the far right, who argue that in a nefarious plot, President Obama and his team covered up the fact that it was Al Qaeda-linked terrorists who attacked the compound in Benghazi (it wasn’t), that the CIA and Susan Rice, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, engaged in some sort of political shenanigans to convince Americans that it was no big deal on the eve of the presidential election (they didn’t) and that the White House and the Pentagon blithely ignored calls for help from the US personnel under attack (they didn’t). Still, on every Fox News broadcast, on the right-wing blogs, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference and elsewhere among the hard-core GOP faithful, “Benghazi” is a code word for Obama’s alleged fecklessness and perfidy.
At yesterday’s hearing, Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, bothered to testify at a hearing convened by Representative Mike Rogers, the GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who’s about the leave Congress to become (wait for it!) a talk show host. Not surprisingly, but with some restraint, Morell patiently explained that there was no conspiracy. Saying that the CIA compiled the “talking points” on the Benghazi attack, immediately after it occurred, based on the “best available information at the time,” Morell added:
I never allowed politics to influence what I said or did—never. None of our actions were the result of political influence in the intelligence process—none.... The White House did not make any substantive changes to the talking points, nor did they ask me to.
Did he have a conversation with anyone at the White House about the nature of the talking points?
His thoughts on the false information Susan Rice gave on TV the Sunday after the attacks?
“What she said about the attacks evolving spontaneously from a protest was exactly what the talking points said.”
How about the claims that somebody in the administration told the military not to assist on the night of the attack?
“I am aware of several requests by CIA for military support that night, and those requests were honored and delivered.”
Milbank adds that Representative Peter King (R-NY) “let loose a string of insults,” Representative Michelle Bachmann said that she believes (sans evidence) “that there was an intentional misleading of the public,” and that Representative Frank LoBiondo “shouted virtually his entire statement,” in which, hilariously, he said:
We get on talking points, and we get about who said this and whether the station chief said that. And the bottom line is that we’ve got people running around who killed Americans, who are sipping mai tais or whatever they’re sipping, and we can’t do anything about it.
Mai tais? Unless the Al Qaeda people he is worried about were drinking virgin mai tais, it’s unlikely that the strict Islamists who did assault the Benghazi compound had suddenly found a decree from some drunken imam that alcohol was no longer haram.
Politico, which appears to have taken the whole thing way too seriously, in its report quotes Rogers, King and others extensively, as if they were a bunch of Sherlock Holmeses who had finally gotten to the bottom of some mystery. But Morell quietly explained that he didn’t even know that Susan Rice would be appearing on Sunday morning talk shows, and that he didn’t know she’d be using the CIA-generated talking points, which anyway were subject to changes and updates as new information became available. As to whether the attack, which was first described as a protest over the Internet-circulated video about the Prophet Mohammad, and then as a pre-planned terrorist assault, was one or the other, Morell explained to the shouting committee members:
I believed what my analysts said, that there was a protest. I also believed it to be a terrorist attack. You see, we never, we never saw those two things as mutually exclusive, and so I believed both of those at the same time.
Before yesterday's hearing, Bill O’Reilly, the noted foreign policy expert, had this to say:
Now, the big picture: President Obama was running for re-election when the terrorists hit Benghazi and his campaign was touting his effective policies on terrorism. So there could have been a political motivation to keep terrorists out of the Benghazi debacle. If the Obama administration lied, that's an abuse of power. If the CIA cooperated in the lie, that's an abuse of power. As we all know from Watergate, abuses of power can lead to very bad things.
So Benghazi is a big story whether the left wants to admit it or not. To be fair we need to hear from Mr. Morell tomorrow under oath, and people should not be making blanket accusations against the President or anyone else. But this whole thing is very suspicious. If that CIA memo counters what Ambassador Rice said, all hell should break loose, even with apathetic media.
But it’s obvious that hell, even among the apathetic media, isn’t breaking loose.
Don’t worry: to be continued. And continued.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt on how sensational news stories distract us from real crises.