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Obama Misleads on the Libya Scandal

Romney stumbles in his response.

8:10 AM, Oct 17, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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*         On September 25, in an appearance on The View, Joy Behar asks Obama about Hillary Clinton’s acknowledgement that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack and asks if he agrees. Obama refuses to endorse her characterization. “We don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering,” he says, allowing that it was not “just a mob action.”

Do these answers sounds like ones that would be given by an administration that had announced immediately – on September 12 – that the Benghazi attacks were indeed terrorist attacks?

Another question: If the Obama administration had declared early on that these were indeed terrorist attacks, as the president suggested Tuesday night, why did the media treat as newsworthy the acknowledgement of National Counterterrorism Center director Matthew Olsen on September 19 that the four Americans were killed “in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy?”

And another: If the Obama administration had in fact conceded that these were “terrorist attacks” early on, why was it big news when those words first passed Carney’s lips in a press gaggle on September 20. Here’s how Mark Landler of the New York Times led the pool report after reporters met with Carney. “The main headline from the gaggle was the White House’s description of the attacks on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi as a ‘terrorist attack.’ I’ve put that exchange at the top with the rest of the gaggle below it.”

At the debate Tuesday, Obama wasn’t the only one pretending the administration has been consistent in its descriptions of the Benghazi incident. In the spin room afterwards, when a foreign journalist asked top Obama adviser David Axelrod about Turkey, he turned the question back to Libya. “One interesting thing that happened tonight was that when the president said that he stood in the Rose Garden and called the attack on our consulate in Benghazi an ‘act of terror,’ Governor Romney said he didn’t,” Axelrod noted, using the same misleading formulation Obama had used during the debate itself. “And it took the moderator, Candy Crowley, to fact-check him and say, ‘No, actually he did.’”

But in comments on CNN after the debate, Crowley walked back her correction of Romney. “I heard the president’s speech at the time. I sort of reread a lot of stuff about Libya because I knew we’d probably get a Libya question so I wanted to be up on it. So I knew that the president had said: ‘These acts of terror won’t stand.’ Or whatever the whole quote was. And I think actually, you know, right after that, I did turn around and say, ‘But you are totally correct that they spent two weeks telling us this was about a tape and that there was this riot outside the Benghazi consulate – which there wasn’t. So [Romney] was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word.’”

I asked Axelrod whether he had any involvement in briefing Susan Rice for her Sunday appearances.

“None,” he said.

Did anyone on the campaign?

“I have not talked to Susan Rice and I don’t know of anybody who did.”

I also asked Axelrod about the quality of the intelligence provided to the administration in the aftermath of the attacks and what the possible ramifications might be for top intelligence officials. He placed the blame for inaccurate narrative squarely on the intelligence community, but refused to speculate about potential consequences.

Our exchange:

“If the intelligence was bad – if that’s what the intelligence was and we now know that the stories had to be revised, everybody acknowledges that – does this mean that somebody in the intelligence community should be fired over this? Someone should lose their job about this? The intelligence was bad, right?”

“Yes,” Axelrod responded. “Obviously the intelligence was not correct. But the nature of these things is that intelligence sometimes isn’t. Why that happened is of course a matter of review right now. So I’m not going to leap out there and comment on that.”

If the tone of some the post-debate analysis sounds familiar, there’s a reason. It’s an echo of the days after the 9/11 attacks in Benghazi, when Mitt Romney expressed himself poorly and the media focused on Romney rather than on the unrest in the Middle East or the inconsistencies already apparent in the Obama administration’s narrative.

It may be happening again. This is an argument Romney wins just by having it. Even if the ostensible focus of post-debate coverage remains Romney’s inartful response, the context for his comments is the Obama administration’s failure to tell the American people a straight story on Libya.

It’s not going away. 

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