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. larryjacks

    For the sake of national security, nobody want to talk about what Stevens (and Hillary) were actually doing in Benghazi. Truth is, they were providing weapons, communication gear and money to Sirian rebels, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The talking points were designed to slow down the investigation during the election because the idea that Obama was supplying radical muslims with weapons could of hurt his chances. They lied to the public for political reasons and probably legal ones as well. (See Reagan; Ollie North) Now that the truth is being fleshed out, the top government clown is whining about his circus. Hillary will never get elected. Never. If she does, it only proves that the American public is brain dead and unconcerned with their personal freedom.

    May 13, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  2. John

    Lots of crying about lies and the truth but not a singe one of you clowns actually have anything that was lied about, anything that was not 100% the truth. The idea that there must be a cover up because the investigation did not impeach the president for your imagined discretions is laughable if not for the harm you people do to our country. The talking heads and FIxed news play you people for fools everytime. WMD's, Rommneys sure landslide victory, Hillary's cover up......... You are all a bunch of clowns, the circus is to be expected.

    May 13, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  3. pax et bonum

    Despite President Obama’s many (though evasive) comments on the campaign trail about Benghazi, his Valentine's Day video post on Google and subsequent comments and actions downplaying Benghazi, and despite Secretary Clinton's testimony during Senate hearings on Benghazi ("How can it possibly matter?"), there are questions on Benghazi that very much matter to the American public.

    1 – Did the President along the lines of what he stated on the campaign trail issue an order to do everything possible to protect the embassy personnel?

    2 – If so, did the chain of command fail, and who and what process components allowed that failure?

    3 – Did someone (who and with what authority) "override" an order from the Commander-in-Chief, who was incommunicado for hours after the initial Benghazi briefing (while he flew to Vegas and visited with JayZ and Beyonce)?

    4 – If our Commander-in-Chief did not issue an order, why did he say days before the election that he did?

    5 – Who changed the Benghazi talking points (suggesting Benghazi was a spontaneous protest of a video and not a terrorist attack) such that these talking points became shamefully misleading and thus placed the United States before the United Nations and world in a lie of omission?

    6 – Who allowed (willfully and knowingly) an incomplete, incorrect version of Benghazi to be presented repeatedly for weeks to the American People?

    Regarding questions 5 and 6 above, Andrew Rosenthal (Editor at the NY Times, blogged on the NY Times Editorial Page Editor's blog 21Nov12 that "CBS and CNN reported that, actually, the Director of National Intelligence [James Clapper] was behind the change [to the talking points], and the White House made no substantial edits." Is this true? Further questions arise.

    7 – Has Director of National Intelligence Clapper accepted responsibility for changing the talking points prepared by then Director of the CIA David Petraeus? If not, who knew about and who authorized changes to the talking points? And, why? Who changed the talking points? And, why?

    8 – If Clapper changed the talking points, what will be the consequence to Director Clapper, given that the edited talking points provided to the White House were known to be false based on Petraeus's original draft of the talking points, or were the result of gross incompetence by Clapper and the Office of National Intelligence?

    9 – Did anyone (e.g. the Secretary of Defense, or Secretary of State) inform President Obama (and, when) that the talking points had been edited and provide reasons why?

    10 – If, as Rosenthal of the NY Times blogged, the White House made no substantial edits, did the White House decision to make "no substantial edits" to the talking points reflect political intentions (at election time)?

    Without complete, forthright answers to these (and other) questions from the bottom to the top, including from President Obama, the American People will never know whether we have been deceived, and if so, for what reasons by:
    • Ambassador to the United Nations Rice (who was just following orders),
    • former Secretary of State Clinton (who was piqued, or melodramatic at the hearings – – – What difference can it possibly make?)
    • former Secretary of Defense Panetta (who stammered his way through the Senate hearings on Benghazi), and
    • a President (who on the campaign trail answered a reporter's question on Benghazi saying that [Benghazi] has nothing to do with this election even though he was then, as now, Commander-in-Chief, and who posted a video on Google (14Feb13) during the nomination hearings for Sec'y of Defense Hagel and CIA Director Brennan suggesting that Benghazi was not a legitimate topic for discussion for the hearings – – – despite its significance as an intelligence and defense failure in the midst of crisis.)

    These questions matter, because they involve a search by the American People for Truth and because they involve the public trust. These questions matter because the answers to these questions affect the ability of the Administration to govern effectively and to safeguard the Country’s interests. These questions matter because they relate to the ability of the American People to continue to invest our government (and the current Administration in particular) with its legitimate authority to govern.

    May 13, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. Ted

    This is without a doubt the most corrupt President ever. They didn't want a terrorist attack on our Embassy to affect the election. And now they are getting caught in their own deception. How anyone can defend this Administration now is beyond me

    May 13, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "How many had suffered previous attacks? NONE
    How many had begged for added security and been denied? NONE
    How many had their security CUT after being attacked? NONE
    How many lasted for 8 hours? NONE
    How many were denied help and aid while being attacked? NONE
    What resemblance do these events bear to Benghazi? NONE"

    Someone needs to do her research somewhere other than World Net Daily, Breitbart and Faux News.

    May 13, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. Mike

    Lets see the GOP is steaming about revisions to talking points used to discuss four people that had already been killed in Benghazi. How about Issa and the rest of these CONservatives look into the rewriting of CIA analyst reports that were used to drag the country to war in Iraq? That was a war of choice that GOP (Cheney & Bush & Condi & Donnie & Colin) sold to Americans & the World. It left thousands of Americans dead, tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands of iraq's dead. Plus squandered trillions of dollars from our US Treasury. And yet no weapons of mass destruction were found. Bush joked about WMDs in a speech to his supporters later after nothing was found. The fact that the GOP want to investigate Benghazi but not Iraq war run up is an absolute outrage! That whole Bush administration should be tried for war crimes for there lies. Or you could investigate the fiasco called TARP that gave away trillions to the banks which they were free to pay out as bonuses or sit on and collect interest. Nope not going to look at that either. Then do your damn job and put people back to work!!!

    May 13, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. chuck

    What else can that carousel of clowns in congress do BUT make a circus out of it?

    May 13, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. um234

    BO couldn't afford to tell the truth ... he had an election to win.

    May 13, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  9. znod

    The US House/Senate combo is incredibly lowly rated. The Repubs in the House/Senate are the worst of the breed as they are largely at fault when it comes to ineptness in getting "the job" done. They have no credibility because everything they do is purely politically/feather-their-own-nests motivated. Thus, they are spitting in the wind when it comes to perpetrating their silliness when it comes to Benghazi. They are simply wasting time that might be used productively.

    May 13, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. TommytheT

    Sorry Mr President but you started this circus when you could not even engage with your advisers when you first heard of the attack, you refused to call it a Terrorist attack, despite input from those involved that it was (and no an Act of Terror is not the same, there was an Act of Terror in Newton but not a Terrorist attack) and then went on for days blaming a video and calling shame on the maker of that video. Don't come off lecturing us all about how wrong we are now to keep digging into the situation to get the real facts.

    May 13, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |

    Jean, wheres the blame for 4500 dead soldiers?does that not bother you enough to ask for answers there, see how easy it is to make your post seem absent from credibility, why not bring bush and cheney? if american lives are what your concern is, then why dont we admit that 4500 is more tragic than four, a thousand times more, you can dismiss it, but im sure inteligent people wont.tell me how this is more important, careful now

    May 13, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. The Real Tom Paine


    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

    How many had suffered previous attacks? NONE
    How many had begged for added security and been denied? NONE
    How many had their security CUT after being attacked? NONE
    How many lasted for 8 hours? NONE
    How many were denied help and aid while being attacked? NONE
    What resemblance do these events bear to Benghazi? NONE
    Then it begs the question, Donna; what should have been done? Are you privy to all the information? Do you want our enemies to know what our procedures are for these situations? Conservatives are only for transparancy when they feel they can gain something at the expense of the country. You come on here, listing attacks that resulted in the deaths of 60 Americans over the years, and you show no outrage over those incidents: why? I'll spare you the trouble of answering: you only express outrage if it gets you into an appopriately partisan, witch hunt mood. Otherwise, you don't give a damn. If you did give a damn, Chaffetz and the others would never have cut the funding for seccurity to the embassies, something they admit they did.

    May 13, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  13. Padraig

    There are to many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.

    May 13, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Donna wrote:

    How many had suffered previous attacks? NONE
    How many had begged for added security and been denied? NONE
    How many had their security CUT after being attacked? NONE
    How many lasted for 8 hours? NONE
    How many were denied help and aid while being attacked? NONE
    What resemblance do these events bear to Benghazi? NONE
    Actually, some sites were attacked multiple times, like the embassy in Yemen.
    We don't know who begged for help and was denied because they died.
    Security wasn't cut until the Tea Party overran the House.
    The order was given to evacuate, which they eventually did.
    Those events bear a strong resemblance to Benghazi because they're all embassies where people were killed. Some were attacked multiple times without any increase in security.

    May 13, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  15. Monomachos

    The president's comments are not in line with previous WH comments. Find the CNN article "What the Obama administration said about the Benghazi attack." You will see that people did know from the beginning what happened.

    May 13, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  16. Frank

    Since the GOP is okay with inquests now, let's haul up Cheney and havce an inquest into the lies surrounding the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Also, find out what Cheney knows about the billions of dollars that he had sent to Iraq, shipped as tons of cash on pallets.

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer


    I stood on the banks of the Hudson and watched in horror as Americans leaped to their deaths from the Twin Towers in NYC on 9/11/01 because GWB and the GOP failed to defend and protect our homeland. Where were you on 9/11/01 honey?

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  18. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    Apparently since this appears to have happened under other administrations it's OK for this one to do it.

    Listen to yourselves libs. That's an extremely pi55 poor argument.

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  19. um234

    If Libya could not protect the U.S. Ambassador adequately, Stevens should have been taken off his post.

    They didn't make the correct call on that either!!!!

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  20. Wingnut

    The Benghazi attacks didn't happen like they are telling you! It is a conspiracy to cover up the real atrocity of a sitting diplomat with illuminati ties to the reptilean beings actually running our country. I mean, you know Obama rhymes with osama?! Coincidence... I don't think so. We know now that when they faked Sandy Hook they opened the door to the Arias trial because the question was never asked as to where Obama was that night. See, see... you just don't get because you weren't aware to the little boy who liked turtles... Vote republican! The party of ideas (insane and crazy ideas, but ideas nonetheless.

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  21. Sue

    How many had suffered previous attacks? NONE
    How many had begged for added security and been denied? NONE
    How many had their security CUT after being attacked? NONE
    How many lasted for 8 hours? NONE
    How many were denied help and aid while being attacked? NONE
    What resemblance do these events bear to Benghazi? NONE

    Show the facts. I know this is hard for Republicans to do but maybe you can go out on your own and find facts!!! I guess if it doesn't come from Limbaugh, it's not true....

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  22. duke

    Sly quit your lying. NO cuts were made to security by Congress BEFORE Benghazi–NONE. Any cuts including from the Sequester were AFTER the attacks. Even if cuts were made to the State Dept. budget, they can allocate security from one area to another.

    May 13, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  23. Gerard Hicks

    I don't get what the issue is with Benghazi. Why is it that 4 people dying is such a huge issue to the GOP but then they handwave VA Tech, Aurora and Sandyhook as 'just a few deaths', 'just a sinlge crazed gunman'? I know its not an exact comparison but if you want to move mountains for 4 grown men dying in hostile foreign territory, certainly you'd do the same for 20 children, right?

    IMHO, the GOP just wants its monopoly on National Security/Terrorism/Military back.

    May 13, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  24. The Other Bob


    The only people who are "sullying the memory of the four Americans who died" are the ones trying to sweep the whole Benghazi affair under the rug. But no; according to Obama, it's those who are seeking the truth who are doing the "sullying." Once again; go against Obama and be demonized.


    Pay no attention to the news reports of my administrations lyling, coverup's and or IRS intimidation. Remember I give you free phones, free healthcare, free housing, and free food, just keep voting Dem!
    They are in no way seeking the truth about what happened on 9/11/12; they are looking at what was said after the fact.

    "Free phones..." Still singing that old, debunked song? How pathetic.

    May 13, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  25. JohnW

    Classic Republican tactic along the lines of Bush/Rove. Don't find the information you want, keep looking until you find the information you want, even if you have to invent it. Otherwise we never would have seen the link between Al-Queda and Saddam, and we never would have seen all those WMDs rampant in Iraq.

    May 13, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
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