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. VEW2012

    The GOP needs to remember just how many diplomat lives were lost along with the number of lives during the last the lives that could have been saved had we not had to deal with the lie of WMD and the unnecessary Iraq War. If they want to point fingers let them find a mirror.

    May 13, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  2. reality

    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 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  3. John Jingle

    Funny, this administration is nothing but a circus! What a pathetic waste these 4 years have been and it's only getting worse. Worst President in the history of the United States.

    May 13, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  4. Donna

    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.
    Hicks testified he spoke with Hillary Clinton at 2am. The attack started at 9:40pm. They knew it was a terorist attack within 4 hours 20 minutes. And yet they spoke about the video for weeks, even lying face to face to the families of the 4 dead Americans. It make you wonder if Obama and Clinton have a soul. If they could lie, face to face to the families, who knows what lies they are capable of?

    May 13, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  5. Jean

    Key here is "until we know the facts", really?? Then why did you say anything at all? They should have said nothing instead of trying to protect their election cycle tag-line of osama is dead and al qaeda is on the run. In fact, it was not a video so if they cared so much about the "facts" how were they sooo very wrong? They are hypocrits at best, lying through their teeth at worst. This "we didn't say terror attack" because we didn't know the facts – well if that was the standard they used why the heck did they think it was okay to say it was the video when that was a complete lie?

    May 13, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  6. CryBabies

    Isn't it fun to watch BO and his PS spin this .....Only a buffoon is not able to see why this video story was was political on the administrations part . The 2012 Pres race was coming down to the wire and BO didn't need the hassle of explaining what happened on his watch....deny,deny,deny until the election is over. By that time it should be swept under the rug. Time to pay the piper Mr. President and Madam ex-Secretary. Too many "liars" in politics and you two are "liars" leading the Democrats and representing(???) the citizens of the U.S.A.

    May 13, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. Katz

    You, Clinton, Reid, etc already made the circus with you clowns the entertainers! What a rotten government you have made in the US. You and your Democrats and liberals have ruined the US as we knew it. You people tried to make us think it was all over a movie! What kind of rotten stink are you letting out! Fast & Furious, killing Americans, Benghazi, killing Americans! You people are sick!

    May 13, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. Nick

    Notice how the guilty do not answer accusations directly because they can't! They obfuscate and change the subject and blame the process. Obama's been doing this for years. Maybe, just maybe, he won't weasel out of this one. Wouldn't that be nice?!

    May 13, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    The 2003 invasion of Iraq was dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom" but that country is anything but free as it has been severely destabilized and now bugged down in a civil war that may last decades. And while we are still trying to stabilize Afghanistan and rid it of al-Qaeda, Iraq is now a breeding ground for the al-Qaedas of the world. Condi Rice once said Iraq will serve as a democratic model for the rest of the Arab world. Thankfully there are no takers. The ICC please!

    May 13, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  10. um234

    People have died at embassies under various presidents: However, the difference here is that Obama had this attack in real time and did nothing, there were numerous warning signs prior to the attack, and they covered it up afterwards in a coordinated fashion - all for PURELY POLITICAL PURPOSES.

    BO/Rice/Hillary went on Letterman, The View, UN General Assembly, Sunday talk shows to proclaim to the world that it was certainly all due to a protest that got out of hand when they knew from the beginning that this was a terrorist attack. No communications from Stevens or anyone else on the ground indicated there was a demonstration, the leader of Libya called it a terrorist attack by name, Ansar al Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet somehow we get a totally different account from this Admin two weeks after the attack. No one has gotten back to the families of the murdered to explain anything.


    May 13, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. Chanel

    The people who accept these positions, are fully aware that their lives are in danger. It's a dangerous job.

    The Ambassador to Benghazi had already had several attempts made on his life and he chose to stay. He was responsible for the people who worked for him and when he chose to stay, he put their lives in jeopardy.

    “For Republicans to blame the Administration for failing to protect our diplomats, without acknowledging their own efforts to slash resources for embassy security, is pure, distilled hypocrisy.” Senator Leahy

    May 13, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. Junior

    I think GW had it right when he said in an interview last week that he didn't use e-mail much because he didn't want the scrutiny from Congress. This is what all Presidents are going to end up doing. They'll simply meet in person or phone and not put anything in writing. I can't believe they haven't learned this by now. I guess they want letters so they can add them to their presidential libraries.

    May 13, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. California Gary

    You just gotta love it.......All of these "small government – shrink it until you can drown it in a bath tub" Republicans up in arms because our government couldn't save those four souls who had the misfortune to be trying to conduct business in a dangerous and hostile environment. Aren't these the same guys that reduced the budget for embassy security in the first place? If you shrink government and/or cut off the funding it needs to function properly, then you don't have the right to complain about it when government can't satisfy your every need.

    May 13, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  14. IndyMike

    Maybe he should find all those in HIS admininstration that lied and covered up and fire them. Then he, Hillary and Susan Rice can go on national TV and apologize. The only positive out of this entire fiasco is that Susan Rice dropped out of the running for SecState. Hopefully it has also torpedoed Hillary's chances to become POTUS.

    May 13, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  15. steve

    It is a circus, a sideshow, and political partisanship at its worst. When a political party has no solutions to the problems facing the country, no plan going forward, and will not lead, this is what it does. Pathetic: and just think that we pay these people.

    May 13, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  16. The Real Tom Paine

    -just sayin

    Nine people were killed by a car bomb today in Benghazi

    likely the same people that killed our ambassador and 3 others. i thought obama was tracking them down? looks like they haven't gone too far so what's the problem?

    btw... i don't recall libya being a terrorist meccah with anarchy rampant while gaddaffi was in change, looks like obama has made a wreck of yet another middle eastern nation with his failed policies.
    Nah, it was just a country that blew up a 747 over Lockerbie, killing everyone on board and about 12 people on the gound. Its the country that for decades gave aid and support to the PLO, the IRA and a whole series of groups, not to mention brutally suppressing its people while letting oil and gas companies make the Quaddafi family very wealthy. Btw, we never put a boot on the gound to get rid of him, something McCain and others vacilated back and forth on, but NOW Libya becomes important because the Right can score cheap points by exhuming the bodies of 4 people for short-term political benefit? Please.

    May 13, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  17. greg

    So will we be hearing the Benghazi drum beat til 2016. God knows they have no intention of doing actual work between now and then. Don't they realize that they cannot successfully carry this that far and then they will once again prove that all they care about are political points and power.

    May 13, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  18. MNChuck

    To quote Hillary when it comes to the talking points, "what difference does it make". I don't care what came out in the news initially in regards to this. There may have been many good reasons to leave Al-Qaeda out of it at first, say alerting the terrorists we suspected that we were tracking them, etc., what matters is how it happened, why military help was not available and how to improve security.

    May 13, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. Foreverwar

    I hope the GOP keeps running with these fake scandals. As their shrinking party continues to lose credibility, they will continue to lose elections. Thank you Fox News, we couldn't have done this without you.

    May 13, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  20. James PDX

    Instead of costing the American people so much money to put on their dog and pony shows simply to discredit Democrats, how about the party of values be the 1st one to step forward and start being honest. Just tell the truth when you screw up. Hold the appropriate people accountable. Inform America of how you plan to rectify the situation and avoid it in the future. Then just sit back and marvel at how well voters from both parties begin to accept and welcome your newfound honesty as an example you are finally looking out for those you have been elected to represent. Or you can just keep on being hypocrites, costing us a fortune, and losing elections.

    May 13, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  21. Joe

    I am not sure what happen or how the Benghazi failure occurred. My knowledge and involvement of Benghazi appears to be consistent with Obama's. That is truly sad.

    May 13, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  22. Lynda/Minnesota

    "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!"

    Sorry, Missy S. I have no more interest in Benghazi now then I did back when it happened. Terrorism is terrorism. Beyond giving the terrorists who killed our 4 Americans more and more airtime (yes, they most likely DO follow our media talking points) YOU are helping to celebrate - in the minds of the terrorists who committed these murders - those very same deaths you are hoping to use for political fodder ... as much as the terrorists hope for.

    As Alan pointed out ... there had been many such incidents under GW (and going further back in history ... under Democratics and Republican presidents).

    One assumes Americans were killed during those incidents as well. Without the fake rage being thrown about by the right wing as it is this time around.

    May 13, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  23. Eddy

    ...Listening to Obama on that podium reminds me of Bill Clinton, "... I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lowinsky"... when you get caught in politics, the first thing you do is deny, deny, and blame somebody else, it doesn't matter who or what (they've already blamed the youtube video, so that's out)... now, they have to discredit anybody who reveals a fact.. and so the country goes with inept individuals at the top, starting with Obama, apparently... it's sad and just borderline pathetic...

    May 13, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  24. simplyput

    No, Lars, this is a sad country because the highest office in the land repeatedly lies, covers up, and insults the intelligence of people who are listening. Truth is the casualty. This goes for both parties, but at least Bush wasn't in a total state of denail for accountability.

    May 13, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  25. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    After being an accomplice to some of the worst treason and war atrocitioes of the modern era, Dick Cheyney went on State of the Union last year and told Candy Crawley that he has "no regrets whatsoever." Then he said he'd do it all over again. Where's the outrage from the right?

    May 13, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
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