This morning, Washington Post fact checker Glen Kessler decided to fact check Marco Rubio's statement at the latest GOP debate that Hillary Clinton lied about al Qaeda's involvement in the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi. In public, Clinton initially attributed the attack to spontaneous protests arising from a blasphemous YouTube video. We now know that on the evening of the attack Clinton emailed her daughter Chelsea saying the attack was by an "al-Queda like group." Nonetheless, Kessler gives Rubio two Pinocchios out of a possible four, concluding:
Can Rubio really attribute this to a “lie” rather than the fog of war? A “lie” suggests a deliberate effort to deceive, while the documentary evidence suggests there were few hard answers available then to policymakers. ... Rubio is certainly within his rights to point out Clinton’s contradictory statements — and the remarks of the family members give us pause — but he does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar.
Along the way, Kessler ends up making some questionable judgements in explaining how the intelligence assessments on Benghazi played out, and appears to have exposed Hillary Clinton wrongly disseminating classified info. More on that last point in a bit, but first, it's worth noting that the Clinton campaign is engaged in some mendacious spin.
He quotes a Clinton campaign spokesman. "Josh Schwerin, a Clinton spokesman, said, 'Rubio’s statement that she ever said the video was the cause is false.'” This statement comes right after Kessler himself notes that multiple family members of the men killed in Benghazi have reported Clinton personally told them she blamed the video as the cause and even promised to have the filmmaker arrested. That's surely worth some Pinocchios, right? It seems like a pretty good indicator that Clinton and her campaign aren't inclined to be honest here.
From there, Kessler attempts to finger the CIA for being the source of Hillary's confusion:
The CIA’s deputy director, Michael Morell, testified that the first time he learned there had not been a protest at the diplomatic facility was after receiving an e-mail from the Libya station chief on Sept. 15, three days after the attack. (An intelligence report from the Tripoli station making a similar observation arrived on Sept. 14.) Morell said the assessment “jumped out” at him because it contradicted the views of CIA analysts in Washington that the attacks were inspired by the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo (which had been spurred by the video).
(Morell’s testimony contradicts Rubio’s claim on CNN on Oct. 29, the morning after the debate, that “there was never a shred of evidence presented to anyone that this was spontaneous. And the CIA understood that.” On CBS, Rubio also claimed that it was “not accurate” that the CIA changed its assessment, which is also wrong.)
I don't know which Morrell testimony Kessler is citing, because the deputy director testified before Congress in 2014 and his testimony then appears to support Rubio's claim. Here's how the WEEKLY STANDARD's Thom Joscelyn reported on Morrell's April 2, 2014 testimony:
Cutting through all of the back and forth, the most important point is this: The U.S. intelligence community knew right away that al Qaeda was involved in the attack.
“The analysts said from the get-go that al Qaeda was involved in this attack,” Morell said.
The former CIA man was asked why, then, was “al Qaeda” edited out of the administration’s now infamous talking points.
“The only way we knew that anybody who was involved in that attack that night was associated with al Qaeda was from classified sources,” Morell claimed.
Minutes later he reiterated the point: “The only way we knew that some of the people who were involved in the attack that night were associated with al Qaeda was from classified sources.”
According to Morell, if the CIA had included a reference to al Qaeda in the administration’s talking points, then it would have had to declassify that sensitive intelligence.
This is doubtful. The Obama administration could have made a general reference to “al Qaeda” in its earliest explanations of the Benghazi attack without exposing any specific intelligence. It was not a stretch to link al Qaeda to a terrorist attack on the anniversary of September 11, 2001.