At a speech in Davenport, Iowa, on October 24, with 13 days left in the presidential election, Barack Obama introduced a new closing argument: “Trust matters,” Obama said.
“There’s no more serious issue on a presidential campaign than trust.”
We agree. It’s a good way—among the most important ways—to evaluate a leader.
On October 18, five weeks after terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, President Obama told television host Jon Stewart that his administration had moved quickly to share all of the intelligence with the public. “Everything we get, every piece of information we get—as we got it we laid it out for the American people.”
The president reiterated this point in an interview with Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish on October 26. “This is something that the American people can take to the bank . . . my administration plays this stuff straight. We don’t play politics when it comes to American national security. So what we consistently have done throughout my presidency and what we did in this circumstance is as information came in we gave it to the American people. And as we got new information we gave that to the American people. And that includes, by the way, members of Congress.”
This is false. We know this because senior members of the Obama administration have spoken about the need to keep information from the American people. From the White House to the State Department to the FBI, administration spokesmen have said that they are withholding information until the completion of the several administration-backed investigations into the matter.
On September 14, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that the department would no longer answer questions related to the Benghazi attacks. “It is now something that you need to talk to the FBI about, not to us about, because it’s their investigation.” The FBI, not surprisingly, won’t answer questions about an ongoing investigation.
What about the White House? Last Wednesday, a spokesman for the White House’s national security staff refused to answer very basic questions about the president’s schedule during and after the attacks, telling reporter Fred Lucas: “We decline to comment.”
And the secretary of state? When reporters asked Hillary Clinton last week about emails that the White House received as the assault was unfolding, indicating possible terrorist involvement in the attacks, she refused to provide details. “The independent Accountability Review Board is already hard at work looking at everything, not cherry-picking one story here or one document there, but looking at everything—which I highly recommend as the appropriate approach for something as complex as an attack like this.”
And the president himself? Late Friday, Kyle Clark, a reporter for a Denver television station, attempted to get answers directly from Obama in an interview at the White House. Did the president committed to sharing everything make good on his promise? Here is how Clark’s report of the interview began: “President Barack Obama would not directly address repeated questions from 9NEWS on whether Americans under attack in Libya were denied requests for assistance during the September 11th terror attack.”
Basic questions. No answers.
We know this much: What Barack Obama said is unambiguously false. Members of his administration have not provided information to the American people about Benghazi as they have received it. And in many instances, the opposite has been true. The Obama administration has used every means at its disposal to avoid sharing information about the Benghazi attacks—not only with the American people, but with Congress, too.
Sources tell The Weekly Standard that the administration is ignoring—or denying—routine requests for information from the congressional committees with oversight on national security. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says one congressional Republican. “Basic questions—unanswered for literally weeks.”
One could argue that this is good news. An administration refusing to provide information about the attacks is an administration that isn’t providing misleading information about those attacks. And that’s what the American public got for the better part of four weeks.
• There was “no evidence” of a planned terrorist attack. At his briefing on September 18, a full week after the attacks, Jay Carney said this: “I’m saying that based on information that we—our initial information, and that includes all information—we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack.” (Emphasis added)
There was, in fact, abundant evidence of a planned terrorist attack. Emails sent to the White House as the attacks unfolded reported that Ansar al Sharia (AAS), an al Qaeda-linked group in Libya, had claimed credit for the attack. Virtually everything else about the assault suggested planning—from the precision of the mortar attacks to the “blocking maneuver” used by the terrorists to attempt to ambush the Americans as they fled the consulate for the CIA annex.
• The protest outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was about a YouTube video. More Carney from September 18: “We saw evidence that [the attack] was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence—not supposition—concrete evidence that we have thus far.” The basis for this claim was a telephone intercept between two al Qaeda-linked terrorists, one from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the other from the Libyan branch of Ansar al Sharia. There was no “concrete evidence” that the video played a role. The AAS terrorist, who took part in the attack, reported to the AQIM operative that he had been watching the activities in Cairo before participating in the Benghazi attack. He said nothing about the film. Importantly, he never claimed that the Benghazi attack happened because of the Cairo protests. There was never a direct link between the YouTube video and the Benghazi attack. But the administration claimed—repeatedly, and for weeks—a causal relationship between the video and the attack in Benghazi.
The Obama administration built its entire explanation of Benghazi around this detail it learned from a call between two al Qaeda-linked operatives. But as the administration made its public case that the 9/11/12 attacks resulted from a mob spun out of control, top Obama officials emphasized (and manipulated) that detail while excluding the far more relevant fact that the conversation took place between . . . two al Qaeda-linked operatives. Beyond that, there was no protest in Benghazi, as virtually everyone now acknowledges.
So where the administration didn’t hide information, it cherry-picked what it would share. And where the administration shared information, it manipulated that intelligence. Now, as Americans seek information about what happened in Benghazi, the administration stonewalls.
The State Department’s Accountability Review Board is due to report on November 15—9 days after the election. “We don’t play politics when it comes to American national security,” Obama says. What will the State Department have learned in 65 days that it won’t know after 56 days?
And what about the president’s claim, “Everything we get, every piece of information we get—as we got it we laid it out for the American people”?
It’s simply not true. And trust matters.