May 13th, 2013
01:10 PM ET
10 years 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. ted

    Wanting to get to the bottom of a serious State blunder, is no laughing matter.
    Obama is the Clown making American civics a sideshow.

    May 13, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  2. Antonio

    I'm fairly confident Nixon was taking a equally brazen tone just months before he was forced to resign. I know Clinton was wagging his finger at us about his receiving pleaures from an intern in the Oval Office. The buck stops at the White House. Unless he can convice more lackeys to fall on a sword for him.

    May 13, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  3. gross

    So when you try to point out the hypocrisy that apparently these 4 American lives were more important than past ones you get the whole "It's about the fact that they lied for political gain!" But wasn't this in September? And didn't they tell us within a week? A bunch of sore losers it sounds like.

    May 13, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  4. John

    The day the attack happened, I walked into work in shock in what the administration was saying and doing, because it was blatantly false. I wondered what arrogance would lead them to believe that they could lie and not get caught, and even more, what arrogance would lead them to believe they could respond so poorly to the attack, almost letting it happen, as if they wanted the ambassador dead. I never wanted to be in Iraq, or afghanistan. I never want to see any soldiers die. I am not a fan of what George Bush did. It is idiotic to try and support Obama in a cover up, and say its fine, because GW did bad things as well. Everyone should stop standing up for the wrong in their own party. This act is was simply inexcuasable, whether Obama was the first, or the only one to do such a thing. The idiotic argument that its ok for my party to be bad because your party is worse is pathetic. Of course Republicans are doing this for political reasons. Just like the Obama administration covered it up for political reasons. Obama knew he had enough of the media in his pocket to keep it quiet when it mattered for an election, and now the media can put it out, because a president can only serve for two terms.

    May 13, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  5. gotmercury

    I thought the attack on the embassy in Libya had something to do with the CIA either holding prisoners or harboring informants in the embassy. A such the attack was either a retribution or a rescue attempt by the Libyans. But maybe I am mistaken, and the the public at large really does need to know "the truth" in real time to boot.

    May 13, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. OldSchool

    Are these people who throw around accusations like Obama being a "murderer" actually serious? Do these people even comprehend how utterly insane they sound? As though Obama went to Libya himself and started lobbing grenades over the security wall at the embassy.

    Our embassy was attacked, it is very unfortunate, and EVERYONE feels for the families of those lost. It has been very clearly stated that the type of military help that these partisan zealots claim was "withheld" simply did not exist. There is no story here, other than a tragic occurrence, about which we could have done little else...

    May 13, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  7. llatpoh

    They lied, and then they lied again and again. We now have email evidence of the lies, and witnesses that despite being threatened, have come forward to shed more light on the lies.

    When people, and news outlets, say "this is nothing" or "I've learned nothing new", it's clear that they are unwillingly to believe anything but the pro Obama narrative that they have been fed.

    May 13, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  8. Lean6

    It's going to be interesting to see how the conservative masses cope with the GOP's lack of substance after President Obama has completed this term. Are people really going to be willing to put up with ANOTHER 8 years of this GOP crap during Hillary's presidency?

    May 13, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  9. Jean

    Let's see 8 years and 5 terrorist attacks during the Clinton years (2000 USS Cole, 1998 Nairobi, Kenya and Dars Salaam, 1998 US Embassy Beirut, 1996 Khubar Towers, 1993 WTC 1). His response was pitiful if not pathetic. 8 months and one terrorist attack the planning for which began during the Clinton administration with these guys in the US and moving in and out of the US for training. Blame, let's see – Clinton has a huge part of the responsibility here. He did almost nothing to deter al qaeda – US interests being attacked all over the world with lame responses so while Clinton is in office why not plan for the biggger and the better – he was doing nothing to try and stop al qaeda.

    May 13, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  10. John in NY

    It appears he definds circus = anything that makes Obama look bad.

    May 13, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  11. IndyMike

    "And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus..."
    Of course it's a circus. We have a clown for a president. And congress is the biggest sideshow/freakshow on earth. All under the bigtop AKA the US Capitol.

    May 13, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  12. Patriot1789

    If news media weren't protecting the administration this would be a huge deal - much bigger than Watergate. No one died in Watergate.

    May 13, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  13. jpmichigan

    The only side show is the one given by the President. Obama states, he called the attack at Benghazi an terrorist attack the day after (9/12/2012) He only GENERALLY speaking stated a terrorist attack, not Benghazi. Yet when at the UN several days or week later or so called it a response to a video, not once but several times. One by one the chickens are coming home Mr. Obama. First Benghazi and now IRS. Is there any reporter with the nerve to call him on this? American deserve the truth , from true seeking reporters.

    May 13, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  14. Bob

    Notice how the guilty do not answer accusations directly because they can't! They obfuscate and change the subject and blame the process.

    You are obviously referring to the cheneybush mis-admin, who lied us into a war, outed a CIA agent, refused to answer subpeonas.... yep, a nest of war criminals.

    May 13, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  15. jim

    Then tell the truth, you're the one making it a circus. We know why too – like CLinton, if you make it a circus people lose focus on why it was started in the beginning. Basic propaganda tactic.

    May 13, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  16. sly

    Get over it. The Republicans rejected the security funding increase for this embassy specifically because they WANTED the Americans to die, so they could try and turn this into a poltiical sideshow.

    The guy who died was a Democrat, and the Republicans will gladly sacrifice American lives for political gain.

    That is how that party rolls.

    May 13, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  17. Matthew

    Between this and the IRS scandal, do we not have enough evidence to IMPEACH this administration? This makes Nixon's situation look like nothing.

    May 13, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. michael

    let's have a thorough examination of the 911 attacks on New York City and washington. The Bush admin knew months before the event took place that an attack on USA soil was imminent and they did nothing. The bottom line is 4 people died. Unfortunately these type of killings by crazies are always going to happen. Let's be angry at these torrorists rather than our own people. Is the Bush admin responsible for 911?? Is the Obama responsible for 911/Benghazi????? NO !!!!

    May 13, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Mike

    Jan 22, 2002: US Consulate at Kolkata, 5 killed
    Jun 14, 2002: US Consulate at Karachi, 12 killed
    Feb 28, 2002: US Embassy at Islamabad, 2 killed
    Jun 30, 2004: US Embassy at Tashkent, 2 killed
    Dec 6, 2004: US Compound at Saudi Arabia, 9 killed
    Mar 2, 2006: US Consulate at Karachi, 2 killed
    Sep 12, 2006: US Embassy at Syria, 4 killed
    Mar 18, 2008: US Embassy at Yemen, 2 killed
    Jul 9, 2008: US Consulate at Istanbul, 6 killed
    Sep 17, 2008: US Embassy at Yemen, 16 killed

    Total Deaths: 60
    Outraged Republicans: 0

    May 13, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  20. Mark

    He would hate for the truth to come out.

    May 13, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  21. gotmercury

    No no...the Republicans didn't plan this, it was all CIA's fault, read Broadwell's transcript.

    "Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.

    The challenging thing for General Petraeus is that in his new position, he’s not allowed to communicate with the press. So he’s known all of this — they had correspondence with the CIA station chief in, in Libya. Within 24 hours they kind of knew what was happening."

    Now, why is Patraeus not testifying?

    May 13, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Kevin wrote:

    The White House changed the talking points for political purposes. They removed all references to terrorist groups and changed the language to demonstrators. The White House knew within 24 hours that this was a terrorist attack.
    So what. They removed all references to Al-Qaeda. If they decide that publicly calling the incident a terrorist attack a risk to national security, then they have an obligation to withhold how much we know from those who committed the acts. The problem here is that the GOP was so eager to find scandal that they probably jumped the gun, just like Romney did.

    May 13, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  23. um234

    If I were Amb. Stevens boss (i.e. Hillary Clinton), knowing that Libya had just had a revolution, knowing that it was a hot bed for terrorist training, knowing that the British Ambassador had been recently kidnapped in broad daylight (just 2 1/2 months prior to the attack), knowing that the very same U.S. Benghazi consulate had had a bomb attack earlier likely to test the strength of the consulate walls, knowing that Amb. Stevens requested that he did not trust the Libyian militia to adequately protect him . . .

    If I were Amb. Steven's boss, I would have found some way, some how to get him the extra security he needed. This is not the embassy of Jamaica. This is the Ambassador of one of the most unstable and terrorist filled countries in the middle east. The Khadafi power vacuum was filling up with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hillary and BO made a stupid miscalculation that everyone there now liked the U.S.

    That miscalculation and their incompetence cost 4 American lives. No wonder they covered it up.

    May 13, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  24. who me?

    "Don't make a circus out of Bengazi....because I already look like a clown!"

    May 13, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. Antonio

    Sly, you comment is not only absurd it is reprehensible. Despite what you might think, State's budget for has not be reduced year/year. There was plenty of funding available for security, in fact there was a special forces team in close proximity to the Consulate. It was Hillary who directed them to not come to defend the Ambassador. That, plus the cover-up, is what this whole thing is about.

    May 13, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
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