(Video from CBS is available at the link provided above.)
With the presidential election just 12 days away, the furor over the Obama administration’s handling of the September 11 attacks that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya, rages on. At the center of the controversy is whether President Barack Obama and other officials purposefully misled the American public regarding what spawned the act of terror. A re-examination of some of the comments made by the president in the wake of the attack further adds to the confusion and skepticism.
Let’s start with the latest information to emerge in what critics are dubbing “Benghazi-gate.” On Wednesday, TheBlaze reported that newly-released emails corroborate the notion that the White House, among other government institutions, was alerted on September 11 — the day of the attack — that the Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia had taken almost-immediate credit for the deadly violence. Yet, for days, Obama administration officials continued to blame “Innocence of Muslims,” a 13-minute anti-Islam YouTube clip, for a supposedly-spontaneous and deadly reaction.
Now, here’s where the situation becomes a bit curious. Obama gave an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” just 14 hours after the attack took place. During the interview, which was scheduled before the assault unfolded, the president said that he did not believe that the Benghazi violence was due solely to random mob action.
“You’re right that this is not a situation that was — exactly the same as what happened in Egypt and my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start,” Obama told journalist Steve Kroft.
This portion of the interview, in which the president seems to be admitting his belief that Benghazi was a planned attack, apparently wasn’t aired on “60 Minutes” back in September. While some outlets have accused CBS News of bias for not sharing Obama’s statements during a time when questions surrounding the administration have raged, the clip has been available online since September 12.
CBS chose not to air that portion of the interview with President Obama–not even in the days and weeks that followed, when it was highly relevant–first to the question of the nature of the Benghazi attack, then to the question of whether the president had in fact called it an act of terror from the start. […]
What CBS chose to air, instead, was President Obama’s attack on his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who had criticized the administration’s apologetic response to the Cairo demonstration.
Considering this comment, which was uttered just hours after the attack, one cannot help but wonder why the president and other officials continued in subsequent days to claim that the video was the prime cause of the violence. The State Department’s e-mail alerts, which TheBlaze previously shared, add to the intrigue. CBS News recaps the e-mail timeline:
At 4:05 p.m. Eastern time, on September 11, an alert from the State Department Operations Center was issued to a number government and intelligence agencies. Included were the White House Situation Room, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FBI.
“US Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack” — “approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM (Chief of Mission/embassy) personnel are in the compound safe haven.”
At 4:54 p.m., less than an hour later, another alert: “the firing… in Benghazi…has stopped…A response team is on site attempting to locate COM (embassy) personnel.”
Then, at 6:07 p.m., State sent out another alert saying the embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibilty for Benghazi Attack”… “on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
Yet, while the president initially said that he believed the attack was something more calculated than simple mob rule, the administration quickly became scattered in its assessment. In fact, days after Obama’s CBS appearance, the explanation transitioned from a calculated attack to a spontaneous response to “Innocence of Muslims.”
On September 16, five days after the murder of four Americans, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows, where she doubled-down on the notion that the film was to blame. In a letter to Republican senators she explained why she went with the narrative — even after Obama shared his hunch that mob rule wasn’t to blame — that “Innocence of Muslims” was the catalyst for violence. Rice wrote:
“In my Sept. 16 Sunday show appearances, I was asked to provide the administration’s latest understanding of what happened in Benghazi. In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policy makers. This information represented the intelligence community’s best, current assessment as of the date of my television appearances, and I went out of my way to ensure it was consistent with the information that was being given to Congress.”
And it didn’t end there. On September 17, during a briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to call the attack an act of terror — a curious statement considering what had unfolded.
“I don’t think we know enough. I don’t think we know enough. And we’re going to continue to assess,” she answered when pressed about whether “terror” was an adequate descriptor. “We’re going to have a full investigation now, and then we’ll be in a better position to put labels on things, okay?”
Perhaps The Kansas City Star best summarizes the odd messaging dynamic coming from Washington in the wake of the tragedy:
What prompted that pivot remains a mystery amid a closely contested presidential election and Republican allegations that President Barack Obama intentionally used outrage over the video to mask administration policy missteps that led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens…
Paul Pillar, a former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East, said that it’s natural with such incidents for accounts to change as new information is gathered. “You have not only a fog of war situation, but fragmentary, incomplete information, and as the responsible agencies develop and acquire better information, the explanations are naturally going to evolve,” he said.
But the administration’s statements offer an ironic twist on the “fog-of-war” phenomenon: They apparently were more accurate on the day after the attacks than they were when Rice made her TV appearances four days later. Administration officials so far have provided no detailed explanation for the change.
Obama’s own address to the United Nations on September 25 overwhelmingly focused upon Middle Eastern democracy, free speech and the anti-Islam film. The president used the word “killers” to describe those responsible for the Benghazi attacks, clearly crafting his comments carefully (also worth noting: he avoided the word “terror”).
On Wednesday, the aforementioned information — including the video — was discussed by Bret Baier and his FOX News panel on “Special Report” (see a video montage around 2:30 that shows Obama seemingly backtracking on his initial comments the day after the attack).
It’s a complex situation, but considering Obama’s own initial hunch, it’s odd that the administration would flip-flop so fervently on messaging. While it’s understandable that the “fog of war” would create uncertainty, sending Rice out to vehemently claim that a video caused the violence before all of the information was in seems problematic.