In the wake of the announcement that John Boehner will appoint a select committee, two more interesting pieces of information have emerged for inspection in the saga of the Benghazi catastrophe, complementing the salient points made by LU’s Renee Nal here and here. The new White House response on the whole thing – the all-purpose “Dude” defense – will be wearing thinner and thinner in the coming days.
One more instance of “Documented knowledge that it was a terrorist attack”
The first fresh revelation – for the general public, at any rate – is that an official communication about the Benghazi attack at the State Department, on the 12th, identified it quite clearly as a terrorist attack. Bryan Preston at PJM has the story from Sharyl Attkisson:
[A] newly released email…shows that even within the State Department, the initial belief was that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, not a spontaneous demonstration against a video.
The email is entitled “Libya update from Beth Jones. ” Jones was then-Assistant Secretary of State to Hillary Clinton. According to the email, Jones spoke to Libya’s Ambassador at 9:45am on Sept. 12, 2012 following the attacks.
“When [the Libyan Ambassador] said his government suspected that former Qaddafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him the group that conducted the attacks—Ansar Al Sharia—is affiliated with Islamic extremists,” Jones reports in the email.
The State Department released the unclassified email to Congress in August of 2013. But at that time, State requested that Congress not publicly release it. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sought and obtained permission to release it Thursday, after the Ben Rhodes “goals” email came to light.
It’s noteworthy that Jones’s email refers to her affirming with the Libyan ambassador that Ansar al-Sharia mounted the attacks. This wasn’t just some people inside Foggy Bottom tossing out theories among themselves. The position that it was all a terrorist attack was asserted in an official exchange with the foreign government involved.
Preston goes on to point out the following (emphasis added):
Jones leaves no room for doubt in her email, which was copied to a number of officials including Victoria Nuland and Cheryl Mills. …
Two days after Jones’ email, it was Nuland who raised concerns about the CIA’s initial Benghazi talking points. Nuland, who was a State Department spokesman, worried that the CIA’s inclusion of its warnings of instability in Libya “could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to [C.I.A.] warnings so why would we want to seed the Hill.”
Preston also highlights the fact that the Jones phone call with the Libyan ambassador occurred nearly 12 hours after the State Department’s initial statement on Benghazi:
Jones’ assessment runs counter to the State Department’s statement on Benghazi, which was issued at 10:08 pm on September 11. That statement floated “inflammatory material posted on the Internet” as the cause of the attack. It was issued just a few minutes after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Clinton spoke together by phone.
That 10:00 PM Obama-Clinton phone call on the 11th just keeps looking more important with each new piece of the puzzle. I note as well, looking through the preserved series of State Department emails linked from Preston’s piece, that the identification of Ansar al-Sharia doesn’t seem to have been considered nearly as questionable as later testimony implied. At 5:55 PM (Washington time) on the 11th, about two hours after the attack started, an email from a redacted sender describes the attack as involving a fight between the 17th February militia, which was acting in a security role for the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, and Ansar al-Sharia.
Congress has had these emails for months now. They do appear to lend weight to the damning conclusions Republican senators and representatives have spoken of since late 2013.
One more theory about what Obama was doing that evening
The other piece was published at Patterico’s blog on Friday. It’s not definitive, and I, for one, am not hanging my hat on it. But it is interesting. What Patterico found, in an attempt to account for the president’s whereabouts the evening of 11 September 2012, is that there was a group of three men in the White House visitor log who together formed the prep team for the presidential debates which were scheduled for October.
The roles of the three in the debate-prep team – Ron Klain, David Ginsberg, and Michael Donilon (Thomas Donilon’s brother) – are well documented. There’s no question that they would have been in the visitor log as a group, in September 2012, in connection with a plan to conduct debate preparation. But there is a question as to what time they were there. There’s also a question in my mind as to whether they saw the president (or possibly the vice president, who also required debate prep) at all on the 11th.
Given Obama’s full schedule that day (the Patterico post and some of the comments have good links), there’s no real possibility that the debate-prep team met with him before about 7:30 PM, when Obama concluded an hour-long phone call from the Oval Office with Benjamin Netanyahu. Joe Biden sat in on that phone call. Leon Panetta had briefed Obama on what he knew about Benghazi when the two of them met at 5:00 PM; at the end of the phone call with Netanyahu, two and half hours later, the attack had been underway for just short of four hours. From this point until the 10:00 PM phone call with Hillary Clinton, we have a blank space in documentation of what Obama was doing.
Might the president have been preparing for the upcoming debates with Mitt Romney? If he was, we would not, of course, expect to have heard about it. Renee has covered well the campaign of silencing that has been waged against the survivors of the Benghazi attack, and the administration’s absolute refusal to let them speak to Congress. We can be sure that if Obama was closeted with the debate-prep team while the U.S. compounds in Benghazi were under attack, the members of the debate-prep team won’t be talking about that.
But it’s quite possible that that wasn’t what Obama was doing. The three men may have cooled their heels in the White House for hours that day and never been able to connect with the president. The lack of any arrival time for them in the log suggests that they were entered in it for security accountability purposes, but didn’t have a definite appointment time.
We know from media reporting that the debate-prep team caught up with Obama whenever it could, in the weeks before the first debate on 3 October. We know that there was a standing appointment for a weekly “murder board” at the Democratic National Committee HQ on Fridays in September. (The 11th was a
Wednesday Tuesday — error pointed out by an alert reader.)
We’re also told that Obama was distracted and unfocused in his debate-prep sessions, especially prior to that first debate. That seems, on its face, to argue a less-than-urgent attitude on his part.
Which may or may not mean much about what he was likely to be doing the evening of 9-11-12. The problem has been, and remains, that the evening is shrouded in mystery, when there can’t be any valid excuse for not simply telling the American people what the president was doing, while his ambassador and dozens of other Americans were under attack by terrorists in Benghazi.