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. rs1201

    Obama and his minions turned it into a circus the minute they lied and continued to lie.

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

    The Republicans lurch from sideshow to sideshow and false accusation to false accusation because they have nothing substantive to offer the American people. They are nothing but a cult of resentful people who hate everyone who doesn't think as they do.

    May 13, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "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."

    Yeah, but the GOP found out that they had 3 more people with partisan leanings that they could call in to testify in exchange for back room promises of cushy they had attorneys Toensing and DiGenova...two very well known "celebrity" conservative activist attorneys who have, in the past, received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars from GOP congresses, appeared hundreds of times on the "news" to spout GOP/Teatroll talking points that are later disproven (like claiming that Plame wasn't covert), and violated professional ethics via conflicts of interests by playing both sides of investigations...had them come in and coach the witnesses to say what needed to be said to fluff up a revival of this non-controversy. The MSM won't call it out because it butters their bread to let the fabrications and controversy manufacture continue apace.

    May 13, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  4. Alan

    Under GWB, there were many attacks and deaths at our embassies that did not garner a single hearing...hypocrisy at its best:
    June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
    Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51.
    February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    Truck bomb kills 17.

    February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
    Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards.

    July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Taskkent, Uzbekistan
    Suicide bomber kills two.

    December 6, 2004, U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
    Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.

    March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
    Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomate directly targeted by the assailants.

    September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria
    Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.

    January 12, 2007, U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece
    A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the embassy building. No one was injured.

    July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
    Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.

    March 18, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen
    Mortar attack misses embassy, hits nearby girls' school instead.

    September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen
    Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured.

    May 13, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  5. MissyS

    I'm reading through these comments, I see people going back to Bush and Iraq, trying to change the subject and blame. I also cannot believe someone even said "who cares about the 3 people that died in Benghazi" – (there were 4). What is wrong with these people? Bush took us into a war we shouldn't have been in -yes, but what does that have to do with Obama lying to us? Obama had no blame in the deaths of Benghazi – true, but he LIED to the public for political gain. That is disgusting. Hillary says "what does it matter at this point who killed the ambassador and three others, they are dead..." That is even more disgusting. I think everyone – Republican or Democrat- should be disgusted as well with all these LIES told to us! And the fact that still to this day the terrorists that killed these 4 people walk around free to cause more destruction against our country!

    May 13, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "Why didn't we try to save these four Americans who were asking for help?"

    Oh brother. I'll tell you. I know every secret there is to know. But first, you have to answer me this question: "Why haven't you stopped beating your wife?" You first...and then ALL SHALL BE REVEALED.

    May 13, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  7. rino

    Wow GOP seems to have grown a conscience suddenly, after so many death in Iraq, all of sudden they care about death america.

    May 13, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  8. sly

    Total circus/witch hunt. State Dept, reading the Intelligence prepared speech, said "Until we know all the facts, we are not sure who is responsible. We do know there was a riot there over the video, but we do not know all the facts right now, or whether there also could be some terrorist-related activity".

    Non-issue – I prefer my State Dept to patiently do fact finding before simply opening their mouths (GOP WMD-style).

    Go away Republicans and actually try to do something for this world. How about approving the security funding increase for that Libyan embassy, as your President suggested. Fools.

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

    I could not have said it better myself.

    "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 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. JPM

    Obama is the one that turned this into a circus. He must really think that the American people are fools if he thinks we can't see through this. For 2 weeks after the attack, including in a UN speech he said the attacks were the result of a video. He will do ANYTHING to get elected. He is not a leader. This is a worse scandal than Watergate.

    May 13, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  11. annie

    What about the four families who lost their loved ones. NO ONE HAS CONTACTED THEM. Obama, Clinton and Biden said they would contact them when they knew what happened. These families are still waiting for the phone to ring from Washington.
    This is pitiful.

    May 13, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  12. JJ236

    It is a circus. Certainly was last September. Incompetence at the highest levels of government.

    May 13, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  13. Debby K

    "...sullying the memory of four Americans who died.." What a ridiculous comment! Only the actions of the Obama administration is sullying their memory! Just ask the mother of Sean Smith! On her behalf I issue a plea to all mothers, especially all mothers of service men and service women, rally around her and speak out loud and clear demanding that the Obama administration meet with her and answer her questions. It is appalling that the administration will no longer speak with her because she is NOT considered his immediate family. She is his MOTHER!!! SPEAK OUT, AMERICAN MOTHERS, ON HER BEHALF!

    May 13, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  14. apetra

    Alan, have you missed it?

    Obama covered up a brutal Al Qaeda attack that killed an Ambassador, staff and troops, blaming incitement by an American citizen.

    May 13, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  15. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Republicans said they're ouraged over the deaths of the four Americans im Benghazi! Well, just last week alone FIVE (5) Americans died in an Afghan was that was deliberately and recklessly abandoned and prolonged by the GOP for the invasion of Iraq. Can we now have a hearing on Afghanistan for these five Americans, since the other 10,000 casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the 3000 casualties on our homeland on 9/11/01 don't seem to matter to republicans?

    May 13, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  16. Kevin

    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. However, they fooled us for over a week blaming it on a video. Jay Carney (the press secretary) continues to lie and say only that stylistic changes were made. How can people trust the government when they refuse to tell the truth and be honest?

    May 13, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  17. Tea Party Thomas

    Mr. President want to end the Benghazi scandal? Tell the state department to stop lying about what happened. We all know that Hillary screwed up and let our people get killed.

    Conservative values for a conservative America.
    Rand Paul 2016

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

    Barry Baby, you have been cought lying and now you will go down because of it.I guess he learned from Clinton on calling the IRS on Conservative groups. Clinton had the IRS investigate Linda Tripp and Jennifer Fowers after they sued him.
    Why not investigate MOVE ON? they are a political front operating as a non profit!

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

    There is a lot of people here with BDS "Bush Derangement Syndrome". Obama grew this tree of corruption and he is sitting in it. The American people got the chainsaw and are looking to turn it into a stump.

    May 13, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  20. sonny chapman

    The Obama & Hillary Haters keep clamoring for the TRUTH. Here is the TRUTH about Benghazi, but don't expect these Haters to accept it. 1-Libya was/is a lawless place that is dangerous to everybody who is there. Benghazi is the worst part of the "Country". 2- There ARE elements of el quida in Benghazi; they were on "our side" in the overthrow & street killing of Quadaffi. 3- There was attacks on several US Embassy's, including Cairo, at the same time which were fueled by the Anti-Muslim film. 4-US Military Sources in Libya were extremely scarce. Other military support was impractical according to Fmr. Sec of Defense Gates. 5- The CIA was PROBABLY running operations right next to consulate building. 6- Amb. Stevens was too far away form his assigned base to operate safely. I probably wasted my time & energy pointing out these FACTS.

    May 13, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  21. pdenorte

    The Administration intentionally mislabels a terror attack by Al Qaeda, and blames Free Speech by an American as the 'cause' of Islamist murders...and calls for the American's free speech to be censored! This was even worse than incompetence and betrayal of the men in was a fundamental betrayal of the basic values and freedom of ALL Americans!

    May 13, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. jsmoulder

    If they would have just told the truth from the start this would be a non-issue.

    May 13, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. Kevin

    @Alan, people are mad about the lies and cover-up. If Obama simply said we were attacked by terrorists and we will do a better job with security – this would be a non-issue. However, it was near the election and he did not want to disrupt the narrative that we had defeated the terrorists. He lied to us and created a coverup about the video which is incredibly irresponsible and unacceptable.

    May 13, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. Norm

    Im sorry but I don't want to hear ONE WORD about Benghazi until Bush and Cheney stand trial for their war crimes and torture.

    May 13, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  25. KeninTexas

    "President Barack Obama argued Monday, asserting the tragedy was being used for political gain by his rivals." Don't you think this is only fair Mr. President, since your administration did the same thing by lying and covering up the truth originally for political reasons?

    May 13, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
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