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. Liberal Sense (Or lack thereof)

    This was obviously a coverup based on political gain (less than month from the election).

    Sugar coat it any way you'd like but the facts are the facts. Where there's smoke.................

    May 13, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  2. NOON

    When you are got caught for lieing to the American, you claim :"political reasons" !!!!
    My suggestion, just admit the mistake and move on. Stop to lie and mislead to American.
    The issue is that The Ameican giovernment HAVE DO NOTHING to the death of an US Ambassador. They just want to exchange his body for a "spontaneous cause of a nonsense video somewhere on the internet, youtube"

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

    The Republican circus sideshow continues. Perfect example. Mark Sanford. So much for the republican party of "family Values" and fisical responsibility. Sanford stole taxpayer money for his affair

    May 13, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  4. The Other Bob

    Xandor Eich

    Obama refused to rescue them for political reasons . It was an CIA operation to track the missing man portable anti aircraft rockets , and to funnel weapons used by the Lybian rebels to the Syrian rebels . somtimes people have to die so secrets can be kept .
    Please enlighten us as to how that rescue could have been accomplished, but do so with references to Gregory "I watch too many movies" Hicks' ridiculous speculation.

    May 13, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  5. allens

    with all of the budget problems we MUST solve, how can the republicans have time to manufacture lies and distortions of what happeneed? can their re election be more important than doing their jobs?

    May 13, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  6. Brian

    You are missing the point Ol' Yeller.
    None of those deaths were covered up for an upcoming election. None were blamed on video's.
    Those assault there was no 8 hours of firefights and denied backup. Who denied extra security?
    Who told our seal teams to stand down?
    This is a cover up, not and unfortunite demostration.
    Obama and Hillary new at real time what was happening and did nothing to help.
    Cover UP!

    May 13, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  7. duke

    The GOP NEVER voted in 2010 to cut security. The story says the GOP vote occurred after they obtained the majority in 2010, not that the vote occurred in 2010, nor did it take effect. How do I know that? Because the Democratic Senate has NEVER passed a budget since Obama took office.

    May 13, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  8. The Other Bob

    These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

    Just like Obama dishonored the Newtown and Aurora victims by jumping straight into gun control talks?
    And that dishonors them how??

    May 13, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  9. dee

    Mr. President remember JAY said you can chill on the beach with him. Haters going to hate, keep your head up, and 180 degrees of wisdom we with you.

    May 13, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  10. Joe From Antarctica

    This administration is a disgrace. So are the people who still support it. The end.

    May 13, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  11. CryBabies

    @Ol' closed minded fool! Go back to watching MSLSD.

    May 13, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  12. laodegan

    If the administration had been honest, this could have just gone down as a massive failure to prevent a terrorist attack. Instead, it is now extremely clear that the Obama administration hates transparency, and hates telling the truth. It was a politically motivated failure to protect American citizens, and a politically motivated attempt to cover that up.

    "Don't make this a side show." Too late, Obama. Perhaps you should have thought of that before you made up stories, and asked others in your administration to spread lies.

    May 13, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Donna wrote:

    So what if they knew it was a terrorist attack 4 hours later. It doesn't mean that it is a good idea to say that publicly,
    Especially if you're a president that is 7 weeks away from an election and your primary campaign slogan is "GM is alive, Bin Laden is dead." and saying that AQ has been desimated and worse, you have a big fund raiser to run off to while these poor Americans are being attacked, dying, trying to hold out until the cavalry arrives, only to find out, nobody cared enough to even try to save them.
    The administration has the duty to protect Americans from further harm. Showing your hand to the terrorists is stupid. The real problem is that the right wing jumped the gun, just like Mitt Romney did. If what the administration is saying in private is different from what they're saying in public, so what. Republicans should have given it more time, but they were too eagar and desperate to follow through on politicizing the entire incident.

    What crime was committed? The administration has an obligation to tell the truth, but is not committed to do so hours after an incident that puts national security at risk.

    May 13, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. Ol' Yeller

    @ Donna
    Uh... in the list you wrote there are two places which were attacked twice: Jun 14, 2002: US Consulate at Karachi, 12 killed and Mar 2, 2006: US Consulate at Karachi, 2 killed; then- Mar 18, 2008: US Embassy at Yemen, 2 killed and Sep 17, 2008: US Embassy at Yemen, 16 killed yet in your first little snippy question/answer you wrote:
    "How many had suffered previous attacks? NONE
    My 4 year old would've noticed that, but then again, she's a democrat.

    May 13, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. Doyle Wiley, MI

    We lost four people in the attack in Benghazi, due to a lack of funds to provide security to protect our countrymen. Congress if you want to talk about something please talk about approving sufficient funding for security.

    May 13, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  16. rad666

    Top of the list people for today: Gosnell, O.J. and Obama

    May 13, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  17. grace

    yea I'm not gonna believe Obama on this one. That whistleblower tried to speak up and was demoted. You don't do that unless somethings going on.

    May 13, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  18. Debbie

    Obama and Hillary need to tell the truth. It will set them free.

    May 13, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  19. um234

    So much for being the transparency President. He will do everything except give a direct answer to a direct question.

    May 13, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  20. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    This President and his Administration are nothing but Liars and use everything under the sun to blame someone else!

    May 13, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. John

    Mr. Obama you made a circus of this when you blamed it on a utube video when you and others in the administration knew very well this had nothing to do with some video. Now your puppet Carney claims this is old news when asked question and as more info comes out we see this was nothing more than a coverup to help you win an election. Shame on you, the man who claimed his administration would be transparent.

    May 13, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  22. Sue

    How many had their security CUT after being attacked? NONE
    Over the last several years, House Republicans voted to decrease Embassy Security funding by $300 million dollars while Clinton warned that would be devastating to American security. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) admitted he voted for the cuts. Clinton was right. OOOPPPSSS Well what do ya' know.....

    May 13, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  23. Independant

    I don't think there is a single CNN viewer that is not partisan. Everybody hates the other and that just the way it is. Most of you would disown your grandma if you found out she was liberal/conservative. Its like nobody in this country has a mind of their own anymore.

    May 13, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  24. wolfpackbob

    The truth matters. This would not be an issue if President Obama and Hillary spoke to the truth before last years elections. They dishonored the dead. That matters as well.

    May 13, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  25. The Real Tom Paine


    @Ol' closed minded fool! Go back to watching MSLSD.
    Yes, the facts make you closed minded. He ripped Donna's argument apart with actual data, and you accuse him of being close-minded. You would have done very well in the Soviet Union, sticking to PRAVDA's methods of " truth".

    May 13, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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