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. Been There

    A circus? The circus was putting talking points for the election ahead of lives and national security, then coming up with a flimsy cover story about protests and thinking you'd get away with it. Many of us knew the score the whole time, but watched as the dirty Chicago politicians in Washington and the worthless, complicit Democratic lapdogs of the press facilitated the real circus. Don't expect this to go away easy; it dwarfs Watergate in its significance and only partisan Dems don't want the truth. This doesn't even begin to get into IRS-gate and the shameful way that agency, part of the Executive Branch, played partisan intimidation games. This Prez Lite has lost his moral authority to govern, and Hillary stands zero chance of being entrusted with the office; Obama was never worthy of it in the first place. He could not pass, let alone teach, Leadership 101.

    May 13, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. Netmonger

    @rob: The White House doesnt determine the budget for the state deparment or anything else. CONGRESS controls the purse.

    May 13, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. um234

    Hillary and Joe Biden voted for the same war, people. They saw the same intelligence briefings that Bush did.

    May 13, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. bob baden

    To all of you who are laying this at Obama's feet: How many people died in Embassy bombings under George W.? Count them, if you know how. How many have we heard about. None. Why? Because the republicans didn't have a black man in office that they needed to disgrace. That's why. Frankly if life partners John McCain and Lyndsey Graham don't find something new to crow about I'm gonna puke!.

    May 13, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  5. Harvey Tabasky

    Why don't we revisit the evidence in Darrell Issa's arson case from Ohio now that DNA technology has advanced since the 1980's? Maybe we can probe Mr. Issa's stock transactions in his efforts to defraud investors when he sold his company? Better yet, why don't we probe what John Bolton, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush knew about WMDs in Iraq when they ordered a war they didn't pay for that Issa, Ryan et al want us to pay for now? The Bush Administration would never have referred to an information request as a sideshow, C. Howe? You are correct, they first would never have released any information under the guise of executive privilege, then would have referred to anyone disputing their account of anything as communists or socialists.

    May 13, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  6. werewolf1

    Everyone in Washington is a Political Circus.

    May 13, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |

    So right, complain all you want, your serioously going to tell us the gop cared, but why such a huge difference?. good luck convincing people the gop cares, voted against the majority of citizens every single time, your on your way out gop, not soon enough

    May 13, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  8. cord

    Obama lives in fantasia fabricating and manipulating his low information minion voters. What he is seeing now is the fruit is rotting right before his eyes. Nothing lasts even fantasy!!

    May 13, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  9. davecu

    Barry lied to the people about Benghazi and got caught.
    The rest of the administration is playing CYA.
    Hillary banged her head so she can't be interviewed for the report.

    The Circus has left but there are still a few monkeys running around loose.

    May 13, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. buongiorno

    when voices are loud people listen

    May 13, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  11. Abbey

    The deaths of four Americans is no circus sir! Why is it that the progressive hillbullies and Clinton drones seem to think that the presidency is more important than those lives lost? This is the real story.

    May 13, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. Mike

    Where was the outrage when consulates where attacked and killed under Bush. Including the the same consulate where attacked multiple time with deaths each time.

    May 13, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  13. Laughable!

    When Obama (or your State Dept.) let people die for the sake of politics, the red line has been crossed. This is gutless, and no person in their right mind would put themselves at risk in foreign country postings knowing that you/some of your senior staff are complicite in this. You need to quit the theatrics and politics, and try to restore some sense of confidence in your Administration and this country!

    May 13, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. lionheart

    So let me get this straight....its political to talk about these talking points but it wasn't political when after the murders they blamed it on a youtube video? Um ok.

    May 13, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  15. bill davis

    The Republicans couldn't beat Obama so they want to preempt Clinton with our lunacy and lies. The GOP " We Lie, You Decide"

    May 13, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. Concerned

    So George W. conducts a war that kills 5000 Americans and another 1.4 million Iraqi's, but lets go after Obama because 4 people died in a country we knew was dangerous. Under the Obama administration the number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have dropped to a tiny, tiny fraction of what they were under Bush. So, isnt' this whole thing the republicans calling the kettle black. Its was a tragic terrorist act that killed 4 very brave and heroic Americans. Lets remember them and get off the silly politics.

    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. SlackMeyer

    Find out who pushed the "It was the video!" story. Then you'll find what you're looking for.

    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |

    Being led by the shining light of morality and truth Darrel (Burn your own business down ) Issa . This is typical right wing Republican sewage politics at its worst.

    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  19. Nick

    In other words "quit picking on me so I can go back to golf". This President is beneath contempt.

    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Joe

    Who's making a circus of this?

    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. coyoteliberty

    If this event is the non-issue that Obama keeps suggesting it is, he can clear this up in a heartbeat. The only real issue that "matters" (to paraphrase Hillary Clinton) is who gave the "Stand down" orders that doomed those brave Americans. If It wasn't Obama, why in the world was it paid attention to? If it was...

    This is the whole Birth Certificate thing all over again. Just answer in a straightforward, no games way the question people want answered. Dancing around it only raises more questions.

    Oh, and BOO, like most Libertarians, my outrage was in protest after protest against the decision to invade Iraq. An outrage NOT shared initially by many democrats, including those Democratic CongressCritters and Senators who voted to authorize it.


    May 13, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. al

    Just more of the same from republicans. How much more time and money are they going to waste on this witch hunt while Americans can't find jobs.

    May 13, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC


    @ Rudy
    3 things:
    1 The White House is required to submit a budget every year and in its 2011 budget they decreased the security $'s for embasies.
    2 We have been runnuing on CR's since 2009 because the Senate refused to take up and vote on a budget weather it was from the house or their own.
    3. President Obama then signed the CR that included the reduction in the Embassy security spending.
    1- The White House may have asked for less,but the House gave them dramatically less than what was request4ed.
    2- We have been running on CR's since 2008 when Congress passed TARP. I've already told you why the Senate does not originate budgets.
    3. Yes, Pres. Obama signed the CR. It is what came from the Congress, at the very last minute before the government was shut down. A veto would have shut dow the government. You seem to deny that ALL revenue related bills must originate in the House. Pres. Obama doesn't write the bills, the Tea Party controlled House does.

    May 13, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. jackm7

    Mr. President, your lame and irresponsible comments are nothing more than a feeble attempt to hide the truth. You, sir, a nothing more than a grand stander who, with your sidekick Hillary Clinton, abused the truth and made a pitiful attempt to lie your way out of this! More liberal "side shows" to neglect admitting the truth of your incompetence!!

    May 13, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  25. Lynn

    There are so many clowns in the GOP these days, that circus describes it nicely.

    May 13, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
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