‘What would you be focusing on in the Benghazi investigation?” I spent many years in the investigation biz, so it’s only natural that I’ve been asked that question a lot lately.
I had the good fortune to be trained in Rudy Giuliani’s U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Rudy famously made his mark by making law enforcement reflect what common sense knew: Enterprises take their cues from the top. Criminal enterprises are no different: The capos do not carry out the policy of the button-men — it’s the other way around.
So if I were investigating Benghazi, I’d be homing in on that 10 p.m. phone call. That’s the one between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — the one that’s gotten close to zero attention.
Benghazi is not a scandal because of Ambassador Susan Rice, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, and “talking points.” The scandal is about Rice and Nuland’s principals, and about what the talking points were intended to accomplish. Benghazi is about derelictions of duty by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton before and during the massacre of our ambassador and three other American officials, as well as Obama and Clinton’s fraud on the public afterward.
A good deal of media attention has quite appropriately been lavished on e-mail traffic between mid-level administration officials in the days leading up to Sunday, September 16. That is the day when Ms. Rice, a close Obama confidant, made her appalling appearances on the Sunday-morning political shows. Those performances were transparently designed to mislead the American people, during the presidential campaign stretch run, into believing that an anti-Islamic Internet video — rather than a coordinated terrorist attack orchestrated by al-Qaeda affiliates, coupled with the Obama administration’s gross failure to secure and defend American personnel in Benghazi — was responsible for the killings.
Fraud flows from the top down, not the mid-level up. Mid-level officials in the White House and the State Department do not call the shots — they carry out orders. They also were not running for reelection in 2012 or positioning themselves for a campaign in 2016. The people doing that were, respectively, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.
Obama and Clinton had been the architects of American foreign policy. As Election Day 2012 loomed, each of them had a powerful motive to promote the impressions (a) that al-Qaeda had been decimated; (b) that the administration’s deft handling of the Arab Spring — by empowering Islamists — had been a boon for democracy, regional stability, and American national security; and (c) that our real security problem was “Islamophobia” and the “violent extremism” it allegedly causes — which was why Obama and Clinton had worked for years with Islamists, both overseas and at home, to promote international resolutions that would make it illegal to incite hostility to Islam, the First Amendment be damned.
All of that being the case, I am puzzled why so little attention has been paid to the Obama-Clinton phone call at 10 p.m. on the night of September 11.
Even in the conservative press, it has become received wisdom that President Obama was AWOL on the night of September 11, after first being informed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in the late afternoon, that the State Department facility in Benghazi was under attack. You hear it again and again: While Americans were under attack, the commander-in-chief checked out, leaving subordinates to deal with the crisis while he got his beauty sleep in preparation for a fundraising campaign trip to Vegas.
That is not true . . . and the truth, as we’ve come to expect with Obama, is almost surely worse. There is good reason to believe that while Americans were still fighting for their lives in Benghazi, while no military efforts were being made to rescue them, and while those desperately trying to rescue them were being told to stand down, the president was busy shaping the “blame the video” narrative to which his administration clung in the aftermath.
We have heard almost nothing about what Obama was doing that night. Back in February, though, CNS News did manage to pry one grudging disclosure out of White House mendacity mogul Jay Carney: “At about 10 p.m., the president called Secretary Clinton to get an update on the situation.”
Obviously, it is not a detail Carney was anxious to share. Indeed, it contradicted an earlier White House account that claimed the president had not spoken with Clinton or other top administration officials that night.
The earlier story better fit Obama’s modus operandi, which is to disappear in times of crisis. His brief legislative career was about voting “present” because he prefers to be absent when accountability knocks. The idea is to be the Obama of Evan Thomas lore: “standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” He reemerges only after the shooting stops and the smoke clears: gnosis personified, here to diagnose our failings. He is not a commander-in-chief for the battle but the armchair general of the post mortem.
In this instance, though, Carney’s hand was forced by then-secretary Clinton. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, she recounted first learning at about 4 p.m. on September 11 that the State Department facility in Benghazi was under attack. That was very shortly after the siege started. Over the hours that followed, Clinton stated, “we were in continuous meetings and conversations, both within the department, with our team in Tripoli, with the interagency and internationally.” It was in the course of this “constant ongoing discussion and sets of meetings” that Clinton then recalled: “I spoke with President Obama later in the evening to, you know, bring him up to date, to hear his perspective.”