It was an extraordinary day in the telling of the Libya terrorist attack. We had the scene at the White House in which Jay Carney denied he had insisted on Sept. 14 that the attack was linked to an anti-Muslim video. He was apparently making stuff up on that day, and the denial today only makes the appearance of widespread dissembling more vivid. ABC’s Jake Tapper asked the question Right Turn has been puzzling over for weeks now: Did the president shoot first and aim later?
Meanwhile the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), grilled State Department and intelligence officials (although not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice) on the attack and the campaign in the administration to characterize it as the fall-out from an anti-Muslim video. It was not an impressive showing for the administration. CNN reports:
Speaking before the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy responded to insinuations that the State Department was responsible for a lack of preparedness ahead of the Benghazi consulate attack.
“We regularly assess risk and resource allocation, a process involving the considered judgments of experienced professionals on the ground and in Washington, using the best available information,” Kennedy said.
The assault on the U.S. compound was “an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men,” Kennedy said.
His colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, added that the state department “had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time,” drawing a sharp rebuke from committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California.
“To start off by saying you had the correct number, and our ambassador and three other individuals are dead, and people are in the hospital recovering because it only took moments to breach that facility somehow doesn’t seem to ring true to the American people,” Issa said.
The Romney campaign responded to the day’s events with a somewhat restrained statement from its policy director Lanhee Chen: “With each passing day, we learn more about the ways in which the Obama Administration misled the American people about the tragic events that transpired in the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Nearly a month later, the Obama Administration continues to offer incomplete and indirect responses to simple and straightforward questions. It is up to President Obama and his Administration to ensure that congressional investigators and the American people have a full accounting of the facts not just from that day, but from the days and months leading up to the attack. There are many questions about whether or not the Administration properly heeded warnings, provided adequate security, or told the American people the whole truth in the aftermath of the attack. On an issue of this importance, nothing short of full and complete candor is acceptable. We can’t learn from our mistakes if we don’t undertake an honest, transparent effort to assess them.”
There was plenty of drama druing the day with Republican committee members demanding to know why the administration had not told the truth, namely this was a terrorist, planned attack. What was clear is that Libyan-based State Department officials requested more security, which was denied by State Department official. Charlene Lamb, who was the responsible official, was pummeled at the hearing.
But, as Josh Rogin detailed, the most explosive moments came when State Department officials were grilled as to why blame was placed on the anti-Muslim film:
[Secretary of State for Management Patrick] Kennedy and Lamb were also pressed several times to explain why senior officials including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made statements in the days after the attack describing it as a reaction to an anti-Islam video, considering that the State Department was monitoring the events that night in real time.
Kennedy suggested that another government agency was to blame.
“There were reports that we received that there were protests, and I would not go any further than that,” Kennedy said, citing a reluctance to go into detail in open session. Other officials, including Rice, have said that they based their comments on the intelligence community’s initial, albeit caveated, assessment.
But Wood testified that there was no way anyone who was following the events in real time could conclude the attacks were anything but a terrorist attack.
“It was instantly recognizable as a terrorist attack. We almost expected the attack to come. It was a matter of time,” [Lt. Colonel Andrew]Wood said. “[Al Qaeda’s] presence grows there every day. They are certainly more established there than we are.”
At times, Wood appeared to be the only competent and honest witness there, confessing Al Qaeda is growing in Libya and is more established than the U.S. So much for the chest-thumping about our ”success” in “leading from behind” in the Libyan civil war. And finally, the Democratic talking point that the embassy attack was brought about by funding cuts championed by Republicans was entirely undone when Lamb said it had nothing to do with funding.
This is a mess on multiple levels. The Obama administration failed to protect our people. They have failed to assess the growing threat of Al Qaeda. And the president and his advisers have been hiding the ball from voters to save their own political skins. All in all it’s a shabby performance. People should be fired, but perhaps the voters will take care of that.
So where is the president? He’s not come forward to explain any of this, although his vice president will be on the hot seat at the debate tomorrow night. After all, Jay Carney's dissembling, Susan Rice’s misleading TV appearances, and the president’s own assertions, including his Setpember 25 speech to the UN (“a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world”) have left an evidence trail a mile wide.
Whether incompetent or dishonest or a combination of the two, Obama needs to face the American people and be held accountable. And the media, both reporters and pundits, who have tried studiously to downplay or ignore a scandal that in a GOP administration would be compared to Watergate, have their chance to show they are more than apologists for a president whose stature is shrinking by the minute.