Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) weighed in on whether the president made the decision not to send forces into rescue the Americans under siege for seven hours in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012:
As he has done since the Libya fiasco began to unfold, the president is refusing to say what he ordered (or didn’t order) done to save our people on Sept. 11, 2012. There is no excuse for this reticence; he doesn’t need an investigation to tell him what he did.
Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute sharpens the question regarding the president’s responsibility:
There are no pictures of the president watching a live feed from the drone that was above Benghazi the night Ambassador Stevens was killed. There are no pictures of the president monitoring the hours-long assault on the American diplomatic compounds there or the resulting firefight between the Islamists militia and U.S. security guards, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both of whom were killed early in the morning of September 12.
What we do have are reports that U.S. commandos, gunships, and other specialized forces were moved into position to come to the Americans’ assistance. Now, putting aside the fact that such deployments do not normally occur without the highest level of consultation within an administration, what we don’t know is who made the ultimate decision not to deploy those forces into Benghazi. Did the president? If he did, what reasons can he give to justify the decision to keep from sending those forces in? It might even have been the right decision but we will not know that until we have a clearer picture of when he was informed, what he was told, how he stayed informed, and when and why he gave the order to stand down.
And if not Obama, who then was running the show during the terrorist assault? (“So, the night of September 11 comes down to this: was the president in charge — or not? ”)
But then this is only one part of the puzzle of what is increasingly a story of presidential detachment. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Face the Nation on Sunday had this take:
SCHIEFFER: What about — what about what you just said about Libya? Are you saying now that this was a deliberate cover-up coming out of the Libya, that in fact this was not what the administration said it was, but something else entirely. And that, I guess, if it was a cover-up, are you saying they did it for political reasons?
MCCAIN: I don’t know if it’s either cover-up or gross — the worst kind of incompetence, which doesn’t allow — doesn’t qualify the president as commander in chief. You’ve got to — the buildup to it. We knew of two attacks on our consulate. The British ambassador assassination attempt. Repeated warnings. Repeated warnings. The last message our beloved ambassador sent to us concerns about security in Benghazi. He had even voiced them to me when I was in Tripoli. Nothing was done.
I may not expect the president to know about movement of a few people back and forth, but he certainly should have known about the deteriorating situation. And nothing was done.
On the day of, obviously, there was no military either capability or orders to intervene in a seven-hour fight. And probably the worst of all of this, of course, is the gross, gross, outrageous statements that he made and his — I was on your program when Susan Rice came on. And I was slack-jawed when she went through that routine of the — that this was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a video. We now know there was no demonstration. There was no mob. So how could intelligence community ever reach a conclusion that there was a spontaneous demonstration when there wasn’t?
You know, this administration is very good at touting and giving all the details like when they got Bin Laden. But now, we know that there were tapes, recordings inside the consulate during this fight, and they’ve gotten — they came — the FBI finally got in and took those, and now they’re classified as “Top Secret.” Why would they be top secret?
So the president went on various shows, despite what he said he said in the Rose Garden, about terrorist acts, he went on several programs, including The View including Letterman, including before the UN where he continued to refer, days later, many days later, to this as a spontaneous demonstration because of a hateful video. We know that is patently false.
What did the president know? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I was just going to say, senator, you have called for declassifying the drone pictures. Apparently there were drone pictures. Why — have you seen those pictures, senator?
MCCAIN: No, I have not. But what I do know is, that those in the surveillance records from inside and around the consulate will show that there was no demonstration. The Turkish ambassador left his — the consulate and said good-bye to Chris Stevens at 8:30 at night. There was no demonstration.
So for literally days and days, they told the American people something that had no basis in fact whatsoever. And that is the president of the United States. And so, also, by the way, he said he immediately ordered action to be taken. Well, no action was taken over seven hours. Now we find out the secretary of Defense decided not to take any action.
You know, somebody the other day said to me this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people.
And in Watergate the press showed keen interest in getting to the bottom of the scandal. Here, the president and his advisers aren’t pressed to the wall to explain the president’s conduct. Those who vouch for the president and support his reelection do so not having any idea of what the president did or didn’t do, whether he misrepresented facts or was so consumed by politics that he couldn’t be bothered to intervene to save the lives of four Americans. They ask us to buy a pig in a poke, reelect a president who has never had to account for the worst foreign policy scandal (as opposed to policy disaster, of which there are several) of his administration. Why should Americans do that?