May 13th, 2013
01:10 PM ET
12 months ago

Obama: Benghazi talking points fight a 'side show'

Washington (CNN) – GOP outrage over a changed set of talking points related to September's attack in Benghazi is a political "side show," President Barack Obama argued Monday, asserting the tragedy was being used for political gain by his rivals.

The Republicans who claim Obama's administration was intentionally misleading in the way they characterized the Benghazi attack are ignoring key facts and sullying the memory of the four Americans who died, the president claimed.

"We've got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, 'You know what, I'm willing to step up, I'm willing to put myself in harm's way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.' And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus," he said.

Obama was speaking at a press availability alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, in Washington to discuss next month's G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Republicans' accusations of an administration-led cover up in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack were fueled last week by the release of internal e-mails showing top administration officials scrubbing any mention of al Qaeda from talking points given to members of Congress and Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The unclassified talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attack last September 11 was a planned terror operation while they were telling the public it was an act of violence that grew out of a demonstration over a video produced in the United States that insulted Islam.

That was the story that Rice told five days later when she made the rounds of all five Sunday morning television talk shows.

The attack occurred two months before the November election, in which President Barack Obama's campaign often pointed out that it had "decimated" al Qaeda.

Obama noted Monday that he referred broadly to "acts of terror" in a Rose Garden statement the day after the attack, and that Republicans pointing to an administration "cover up" were ignoring stated facts by himself and other officials.

"The whole thing defies logic, and the fact that this keeps getting churned out, frankly has a lot to do with political motivations," Obama said, echoing other Democrats who say the GOP focus on Benghazi is founded in an attempt to discredit former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading 2016 Democratic presidential prospect.

Obama also noted the e-mails released last week had been reviewed by members of Congress months ago, and not flagged at the time as indicative of an attempt to conceal the truth.

"They reviewed them several months ago, and concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process we had used, and suddenly three days ago this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no there there," Obama said.

Over the weekend, Republicans renewed their criticism of the Obama administration for its handling of the Benghazi attack aftermath, claiming an independent review earlier this year didn't cast a wide enough net in seeking answers to still-outstanding questions.

Critics also questioned why Clinton herself wasn't assigned more blame in the report.

"Obviously she was the decision maker at the State Department," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said on CBS "Face the Nation," adding she was "surprised" Clinton wasn't probed further.

The co-chair of the review board, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, defended his work on CNN's "State of the Union," arguing his panel was charged specifically with investigating security decisions, which he said were not made at Clinton's level.

Pickering's report, released late last year, found "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" at the State Department in the lead-up to the attack in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead. As a result, four State Department officials were disciplined immediately after the report's release. One resigned, while three others were placed on administrative leave and relieved of their duties.

Pickering, along with the panel's other co-chair, former Admiral Mike Mullen, were formally asked for depositions about their board's practices Monday by Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.


Filed under: Libya • President Obama
soundoff (429 Responses)
  1. Susan

    it's not the tragedy of Benghazi that is being used for political gain it's the incompetence, negligence and coverup by the obama administration starting with the man himself.

    May 13, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. DJ Reality

    Don't want this to turn into a circus? To late for that. Rep Issa is the ring master and the panel of republicans are the side show freaks and it is all happening under the big top. This way they don't have to focus on job creation (boy that's a laugh) and our economic whoas. They can do what they do best nothing. Oh and take vacations..

    May 13, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  3. jrbaytown

    I hate politics. Each side thinks they are right, regardless. I also love how the republicans are using this opportunity to try and discredit Hillary for 2016. The republican party is certainly no angel, government is corrupt no matter which side you're on, yet we just go on in circles and circles and circles over who is right and who did what.

    May 13, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. THE TRUTH

    Do you not understand that continuing to politisize benghazi, while ignoring 4500 deaths, is dishonoring their contributions to our nation? keep playing games, you look foolish,and smart, honest americans dont like this, no true patriotic american would dismiss their deaths so earnestly, shame on you, even though your using six o seven names, its easy to tell who you are, you must get off thinking your fooling people, typical gop

    May 13, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  5. john

    Total non issue. The whole world knew it was an act of "terra" within days. Whole hearing process was overshadowed by the Arias verdict anyway.

    May 13, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. seanster5977

    Obama you made the Benghazi incident a circus because you are so dishonest. It is something you don't have much of a history with, but you would be best served to actually tell the truth for once.

    May 13, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  7. just sayin

    rk
    Nine people were killed by a car bomb today in Benghazi
    ---

    likely the same people that killed our ambassador and 3 others. i thought obama was tracking them down? looks like they haven't gone too far so what's the problem?

    btw... i don't recall libya being a terrorist meccah with anarchy rampant while gaddaffi was in change, looks like obama has made a wreck of yet another middle eastern nation with his failed policies.

    May 13, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  8. ETM

    Of course it is a sideshow run by the Republican clowns in the House, who have nothing to do but try to get Hillary before 2016. Too bad for them: she will be our next President.

    May 13, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. rob

    @Netmonger
    I reffer you back yo my comment, the WH is required to submit a budget to Congress every year. The House and senate can either vote on that budget or come up with their own. Once they agree on the budget it goes back to the President to sign or veto. Thats how the system works, its Civics 101. The State dept is run by the WH administration and they ask for the funding they think they need. What ever reduction in funding that happened the President SIGNED IT INTO LAW.

    May 13, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  10. Rick

    "acts of terrorism" does not equal a terrorist attack and how far has he gotten in finding out who killed our 4 heros, as he promised to do.

    May 13, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  11. Will Atlanta

    Don't make a circus out of it? That ship has already sailed, my friend. Like on day one when they asked for additional security/protection and didnt' get it.

    May 13, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  12. mommytwice

    I guess I am wondering why, after all these months, this is coming back up. There has been an investigation. There has been multiple "probes". Why now? There's a reason for it, I know that, but that hasn't come to light yet. The right has a reason, since Bush had several attacks on his watch and no one accused him of lying. We know now that he lied every time he opened his mouth. So I want to know, why is this being brought BACK up again, and why now?

    May 13, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. rs

    Fact: Military assets were available to respond to at the time was a fluid situation and were told to Stand down.
    ___________________________
    Where? The four guys on the ground 400 miles away in Tripoli? Then what happens to Tripoli if someone attackes there? Italy? Sure, a 3.5 hour scrambele and trip- complete with a refuel en route. To do what? Benghazi is an urban environment. Just what were fighter jets going to do?

    May 13, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  14. simplyput

    Anyone here watch Letterman? The president was declaring Benghazi the result of a video DAYS after the attack. Lets see some more interviews with surviving family members; I especially liked the fact this president had the unmitigated gall to try to run Rice for higher office. More investigation into CIA and DOD trying to cover for MIA pres and State Dept. *There is no "there' there* said the President. *It depends on what your definition of 'is' is,* said another.

    May 13, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  15. barbara

    This administration and Hillary Clinton are the ones who made this a circus side show.

    May 13, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  16. Woman In California

    I could care less about Hillary Clinton's chances of getting into the White House, the four Americans (who knew the risks) but decided to do it anyway or Issa and his "white ignorance" toward the president, but I do care about all the lives lost in Iraq, Afghanstan and 9/11 and the millions of jobs lost due to lies and misinformation. Indeed, this is a side show.

    May 13, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  17. goblackhawks

    If they told the American people it was Terrorism .. than why did they blame the YouTube Video ... and why is that man in jail ... 9 months later ? Where is Hollywood .. we have a politcal prisoner and they are silent ... And As for the IRS targeting the Tea Party ... EVERYONE should be afraid of this ... You folks on the left have to stop with your hero worship of Obama and open your eyes ...

    May 13, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  18. david saint

    define hypocrisy..those that lied and covered up about fake WMD's and ignoring months of intel about a pending attack (9-11)accusing others of covering something up...my favorite part though, is how the GOP tries to downplay their role in it, when they chose to cut funding for security..had they brought that up, or called to testify those that may have given a different account instead of allowing only the narrative one wants (just like Issa did before), i would have given it credibility..but this is McCarthy style politics at its best, not a quest for the truth..

    May 13, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  19. Al

    Don't make a circus, well that a little late, the circus lives in the White House and the performers are appointed by the one in the White House.

    May 13, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  20. Paul

    I have many questions, that I hope others have, as an American I demand to know...
    1. Why didn't we try to save these four Americans who were asking for help?
    2. Was Obama working that night to find a way to save these people?

    From the testimony I saw and the news I've read. The answer seems to be that it didn't matter. I await Obama to show me differently.

    May 13, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  21. Jewels

    People pointing fingers at Pres. Obama are not concerned about the lies. They're trying to bring a party down. And, in my humble opinion, the Iraq War is a true travesty with deception by leaders. And yet, we're to believe the GOP is emotionally distraught over Benghazi loss-of-life? Hogwash!

    May 13, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  22. brian

    stop digging Obama. You are only dig deeper into this mess. Your lies are clear, and your involvement will also become clear when it's all over.

    May 13, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  23. eli

    Yes four Americans died and that is the horrible facts, but the only thing I seem to be seeing the GOP yelling about is the talking points after the deaths, not before. So I guess we all agree that nothing could have been done prior to the fact to save them . Why are we arguing over talking points after the attack. So what if in the first few days it was said that it was a protest then a week or so later when we had intel for sure say it was an outright attack. When murders happen here, sometimes the first reports are different from the reports a few weeks or even months later when they for sure determine what happen. This is like all things in Washington, all for some political clout

    May 13, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  24. Old Salt

    I am, as always, utterly amazed at the lengths to which the right will go to distort history and the truth. To suggest that Congress saw the same intel that the president saw, when authorizing the invasion of Iraq, is simply dissembling. the CIA told the Bush there were no WMDs, and he backed them down. The intel presented to Congress was phony. the White House knew it, but no one in Congress did. Even Colin Powell, the only honest member of the Bush administration, was kept in the dark. As for Benghazi, the truth about that timeline has been public knowledge since shortly after the attack. For the GOP to now suggest there is more to it is pure political theater. However, based on their performance over the last decade or so, it's not surprising. Can anyone offer any other explanation for why 77% of registered Republicans disapproved of the antics of GOP leadership in Congress?

    May 13, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  25. Lars

    This has become a very sad country. Right yelling at Left; Left yelling at Right; and, neither one giving a dang about The People! This is no longer a government By The People, For The People, Of The People, but rather a bunch of partisan idiots lining their pockets and putting their parties ahead of America! It's time for a change folks!

    May 13, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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