CNN’s Jake Tapper had a balanced take on the Benghazi, Libya, e-mail flap. In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, he explained:
They have an interpretation of events that does not fit with what I think happened. But you know, calling somebody a liar is, it’s, that’s not normally the kind of language I use, but I think that the comments that are being made are dissembling, obfuscating and often insulting. So I mean, I don’t disagree with those who don’t care for what’s going on at the press conferences. I think that you know, when it comes to these e-mails, look, one of the documents in the e-mails that was just released was a story that I wrote for ABCNews.com, and I did on the air as well, in September of 2012 saying that there were people in the administration who didn’t understand and questioned [why] the White House was so aggressively blaming the Benghazi attacks on the video. Now what the people in the White House [who] were circulating this article were saying was redacted, so I don’t know why they were e-mailing it around. But that’s been my position, my judgment, the information I had from close to the very beginning of this affair, is that intelligence and diplomatic officials on the ground did not understand why the White House was so aggressively leaning into the idea that this was all because of a video, and it was a spontaneous attack by demonstrators and not a terrorist attack that was planned.
Why would the White House seize upon such an explanation? Tapper doesn’t want to call it a “cover up” but his take is not dissimilar to what conservative media have been saying for more than a year and a half:
I don’t have enough information to say that there is a cover-up. They clearly said in the heat of a political campaign that this was the fault of a video and not a terrorist attack. That is a fact. Another fact is that in this heated campaign, one of the reasons, one of the arguments President Obama was making was that he was strong on terror, he had killed bin Laden, you know, under his command, bin Laden had been killed and it was a gutsy call to do so, and that al-Qaeda was on the run, and that this undermined that argument. That’s just a fact. I’m not, you know, nobody in the White House, there was no e-mail that I know of saying oh, this undermined, you know, if this gets out, then it will undermine the whole argument. But it’s just the fact that we all know. And the third fact is that diplomatic and intelligence officials early on were saying that they didn’t understand why anybody was suggesting that this was definitively a spontaneous protest and not a preplanned terrorist attack. And it was just a few weeks later that the secretary of defense, Panetta, disputed it and said that wasn’t their judgment. They thought it was a terrorist attack. So you have those facts. And what’s the conclusion? Well, you can speculate, and I don’t think it’s out of bounds to think that they leaned heavily into something that was (A) the cause for unrest in other locations like Cairo, and (B) something that fit their worldview and their campaign argument.
At its worst, this is lying for political ends. At best, you might say this is “confirmation bias.” In an administration convinced of its success (“Osama bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive”) it was inconceivable that an organized terrorist attack by al-Qaeda-related groups could have been operating in Libya after a war they were certain was a success. That Jay Carney may be “dissembling, obfuscating” now doesn’t shed light on whether at the time this was a campaign of lies or whether it was egregious confirmation bias that led to the deaths of four Americans; it is simply a sign that the administration wants to attack Republicans rather than own up to the extent of the policy failure, even a year after the president’s reelection.
And this is where Hillary Clinton comes in. I will put aside whether she joined in the cover-up by referencing the video at the casket ceremony on Sept. 14, 2012, honoring four dead Americans. I’ll even give her the benefit of the doubt that she was at a ceremony honoring Benghazi victims but talking about the riots in Cairo. But, incontrovertibly, her error occurred earlier. If she had her eye on the ball and was critically evaluating the influx of jihadis into Libya, she surely would have acted on the security requests, maybe even pulled out our people. But she had urged (rightly, in my mind) the president to go into Libya, and the administration took credit for a new approach to these conflicts, in contrast to the Bush invasion of Iraq. So everything was fine. Perfectly fine. Ironically, this was the same certitude that led the Bush administration to conclude that there was a “slam dunk” case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Clinton wasn’t about to mess with the conclusion that Libya was a “success,” and the CIA wasn’t about to question whether the WMD information was accurate. In both cases, you want to accept a certain set of facts, your policy preferences dictate that a set of facts must be in place and you don’t bother to look for contradictory evidence.
Or maybe the administration was out and out lying to make sure its presidential campaign didn’t get off track. We will know when people testify under oath or write memoirs. But we really should know before the next presidential election. You don’t want leaders who are so ideologically fixated on a set of facts that they misinterpret reality.
UPDATE: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced today: “The House committees that have been investigating this attack have done extraordinary work, using their subpoena power, holding dozens of hearings and conducting hundreds of interviews. Without this work we would not know much that we do today. But it’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight. This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level. I intend for this select committee to have robust authority, and I will expect it to work quickly to get answers for the American people and the families of the victims.”