When South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham threatened last week to place a hold in the Senate on all Obama administration nominations until the president and his advisers cooperate fully with investigations into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, White House press secretary Jay Carney responded with a familiar accusation.
“Let’s be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes, and we find that unfortunate,” he said at a White House press briefing on October 28. Carney, in a we’ve-been-over-this-before tone of annoyance, ticked off numbers meant to show administration cooperation: 13 congressional hearings, 40 staff briefings, and “providing over 25,000 pages of documents.”
It’s been more than a year since four Americans were killed in Libya and more than six months since Carney dismissively declared that Benghazi “happened a long time ago.” Is he simply doing his job or does he really believe that Benghazi is a “phony scandal” trumped up by Republicans? Whatever the answer, Benghazi is not going away.
Why? “The most explosive stuff is still in front of us,” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and who knows the details of Benghazi as well as any member of Congress.
Too many basic questions about that night remain unanswered. Too many of the administration’s answers are inadequate or misleading. Too many of those who know what happened have not yet spoken. And if White House officials think that the continued interest in Benghazi is attributable to Republicans seeking a political issue, too many others disagree with them.
On October 27, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a story they’d been reporting for nearly a year and concluded that Benghazi “was a planned, sophisticated attack by al Qaeda against a barely protected American outpost.” Although security officials on the ground “saw it coming,” they were powerless to prevent it because no one in Washington would listen to their warnings.
The following day, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, perhaps the most slavish Obama defender in the media, excoriated the administration for its failure to respond during the attacks and its failure to answer the many reasonable questions since then. The president and others, Matthews said, were “getting an instantaneous report of what’s going on there. What weren’t they looking at in terms of assets that could have been sent? Where was the U.S. cavalry, to use an American image? Where were the people that could have come or that tried to get there within however many hours it took to save the lives of the people still living? Where were they? And why couldn’t they do it? I’m going to ask that question until I get an answer.” He went on:
And the president and the national security adviser and everybody sitting in that Situation Room. We had lots of coverage of people when we killed bin Laden, we had a lot of coverage of that. There’s a lot of photographers around during that. How come this is shrouded in mystery? What I can’t understand is all these months later we’re still trying to figure out what happened. I just want to know, as an American, what happened? Did everybody do what they were supposed to do? Did everybody make a really good desperate effort to save the lives of our people over there or didn’t they? If they didn’t, that’s a problem, but I want an answer.
It wasn’t just CBS and MSNBC. Reporters covering the White House and the State Department quizzed administration spokesmen last week about the attacks and the subsequent investigations. CNN disclosed that a raid targeting one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attacks had been called off. A few days earlier, Fox News aired an in-depth report on the jihadist background of some of the attackers. Big questions remain:
- Where was the president that night?
- Why didn’t we send reinforcements during the fighting?
- What was the primary mission of the more than two dozen CIA-affiliated personnel in Benghazi?
- Why haven’t we captured or killed any of the attackers?
- And who were they?
The Obama administration isn’t doing much to answer any of these questions and in some cases is going to great lengths to avoid them. At a State Department briefing last week, Lucas Tomlinson, a producer for Fox News, asked spokeswoman Jen Psaki why two chief suspects in the Benghazi attacks, both with long al Qaeda ties, have not been listed on the department’s “Rewards for Justice” program, which offers money for information that leads to the capture of terrorists.