CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
If you ignored the headline and are reading this anyway, you are part of the problem. Despite the fact that the last several resurgences have produced nothing that verifies the claims of the right wing, we’re once again forced to wade into the matter and endure at least the fifth round of grandstanding in a cycle that leads us no closer to actually solving the problems that Benghazi revealed.
The latest return of the assault that killed four Americans in a diplomatic outpost in the eastern Libya city to the public consciousnesses comes from conservative group Judicial Watch obtaining on Tuesday a copy of White House emails from the days after the attack through a FOIA request to the State Deparment. Now Republicans and conservative media have narrowed in on one in particular from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes as the latest in a string of smoking guns that proves malfeasance on the part of the administration. So now, after 11 open hearings in the House of Representatives alone, scores of witnesses called for testimony, millions of dollars spent, and thousands of documents from the administration, we’re at the point where the Republicans are generally scraping the bottom of the barrel in formulating their reasons to keep the investigation alive.
The new email may have been the tipping point in Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) finally yielding to the demands of the most conservative members of his caucus and launching a “special committee” to investigate Benghazi. For months Boehner had resisted, saying that the four committees that have spent the last year and a half looking into the tragedy were doing a good enough job and drawing fire from the far-right in the process. According to early reports, the committee will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of the chief proponents of the idea that the Obama administration is hiding something about Benghazi that is just waiting to be revealed.
In the email, which went to Press Secretary Jay Carney, Communications Director Jen Palmieri, and other communications officials in the administration, Rhodes laid out the goals of the administration in preparing then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to appear on the Sunday morning talk shows just days after the attack. Conservatives have taken the bullet point stating that one of the goals of Rice’s appearance is to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy” as the smoking gun they needed to finally prove that the administration has been politically manipulating the response from the very beginning.
As everyone knows, Rice went on to do all five Sunday shows and was subsequently pilloried by Republicans and members of the right-wing media for placing such a strong emphasis on the role of the anti-Islamic video in prompting the attack. Such an interpretation of both Rice’s comments and Rhodes’ email, however, ignores the fact that when Rhodes’ email was sent, the Central Intelligence Agency had hours beforehand already drafted a set of talking points that placed the blame on the video. We learned that fact from the emails the White House released over a year ago. And it wasn’t until just prior to Rice’s appearance that intelligence agencies began to come to a consensus that the attack was less spontaneous and more planned that previously determined. That bit of information we learned all the way back in Nov. 2012.
That hasn’t stopped the right wing from unleashing a cascade of rage and scorn against the White House in the ensuing days. On Friday, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) announced that he’d subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before the House Oversight Committee about the latest round of emails. Kerry, as many have already pointed out, was not in the administration on the night of the attack — instead, he was on the Hill as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Issa is demanding Kerry appear anyway. “The fact that these documents were withheld from Congress for more than 19 months is alarming,” he wrote, referring to the recently released email from Rhodes.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Oversight committee, slammed Issa’s move in a statement, noting that Issa did not first send a letter making his request, he did not call to determine if the Secretary would be in the country, and he did not hold a Committee vote on his subpoena. “These actions are not a responsible approach to congressional oversight, they continue a trend of generating unnecessary conflict for the sake of publicity, and they are shockingly disrespectful to the Secretary of State,” Cummings said.
The Rhodes email is also giving conservatives the chance to find any reason they can to trump up their charges that the Obama administration was willfully negligent the night of the assault. On Thursday night, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor appeared on Fox News to discuss Benghazi. While there, host Bret Baier confronted Vietor about his role in crafting Rice’s infamous talking points, asking such detailed questions as “According to the e-mails and the time line, the CIA circulates new talking points after they’ve removed the mention of al Qaeda, and then at 6:21 the White House – you – add a line about the administration warning of September 10th of social media reports calling for demonstrations. True?”
Vietor responded that he didn’t remember exactly what words he changed where in the talking points before finally snapping at Baier. “Dude, this was like two years ago,” the frustrated Vietor said. “We’re still talking about the most mundane process,” he said, adding “We’re talking about the process of editing talking points. That’s what bureaucrats do all day long. Your producers edit scripts multiple times.” The conservative media immediately pounced on Vietor, hammering him for being overly dismissive of the Benghazi tragedy.
“As I said on the show, what happened is a tragedy and our focus should be on taking steps to ensure that never happens again,” Vietor told ThinkProgress. “We have spent almost two years talking about the talking points and it is long past the point of being absurd.”
“The reality is that lots of people just hate Obama and will attack him about any issue they can find,” Vietor continued. “But with Benghazi, Fox News and talk radio have constructed this alternate reality where Obama watched drone feeds of the attack and the CIA was given orders to stand down and not launch a rescue mission. All of that is false but that doesn’t seem to matter. And that’s been the frustration of everybody.”
Democrats have for months now pleaded with their counterparts to drop the cover-up issue and instead focus on the actual policy concerns that Benghazi has raised, such as embassy security funding and the recommendations of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board. The ridiculous nature of the obsession the Republicans in the House has taken its toll among even the GOP caucus. Yesterday, following another Issa hearing, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), chair of the powerful Armed Services committee, soundly dismissed the testimony of Issa’s star witness. In a statement issued soon after the hearing’s conclusion, McKeon said testimony from Brigadier General Robert Lovell (ret.) was not particularly helpful, given his own committee’s report finding that the military could not have changed the outcome of the attack.
Neither McKeon’s snub nor the Democrats pleas appear to have swayed the GOP leadership. And so as we move further away from that night in 2012, the story continues to drift from one honoring Amb. J. Chris Stevens when he gave his life in service of his country and seeking how to prevent others from reaching a similar fate. Instead, we get this: a seemingly perpetual cycle of accusations and finger-pointing, followed by denunciations and debunking. It’s getting tiring but until the day comes that Republican leaders take heed from their own standard-bearers and let the issue go, or listen to the Democrats and work together on actually preventing the next Benghazi, it’s one we’re going to have to continue to live with.