As I said on “Daily Rundown,” it is a mistake for the media — and Republicans — to examine the events in Benghazi, the decisions before, during, and after it, and the investigation into all of this, through the lens of the 2016 presidential race.
A full uncovering of the facts may be enormously damaging to any presidential aspirations of Hillary Clinton, or it may not be. (We may strongly suspect it will be, but we don’t know that, and it would be foolish to let that concern drive the investigation.) A thorough account of everyone’s actions that night may leave Clinton looking awful, or the facts may reveal she did the best she could in difficult circumstances. The point is that we don’t really know right now, and the issue should not be dropped until the public feels like they know how and why those key decisions were reached.
Today Andrew Malcolm asserts that “the big Benghazi mystery” was “where was Obama while four Americans perished?” The answer has always been pretty clear: at the White House. He was informed at the beginning of the evening by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, and then informed of the aftermath the following morning. As far as he and his administration were concerned, his staff was on it.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): But just to be clear, that night [the president] didn’t ask you what assets we had available and how quickly they could respond and how quickly we could help those people there-
PANETTA: No. I think the biggest problem that night, Senator, is that nobody knew really what was going on there.
AYOTTE: And there was no follow up during the night, at least from the White House directly?
PANETTA: No. No, there wasn’t.
DEMPSEY: I would, if I could just, to correct one thing. I wouldn’t say there was no follow-up from the White House. There was no follow-up, to my knowledge, with the president. But his staff was engaged with the national military command center pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.
AYOTTE: But no direct communication from him?
DEMPSEY: Not on my part, no.
It’s not clear that the president’s staying awake and getting constant updates would have changed the outcome. The president’s involvement matters if A) there was some sort of operation that only he could authorize, and that he failed to, or B) he ordered forces to stand down, an allegation not yet proven.
Hicks testified yesterday that “Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” a Special Operations Command Africa commander in Tripoli, wanted to board a C-130 that was going to fly to Benghazi. According to Hicks, Gibson commanded a four-person Special Forces team, a quartet that was once part of a 14-person team assigned to establish security for U.S. diplomats after the 2011 Libyan revolution.
Gibson told Hicks that he had been ordered he was not to proceed to board the airplane.
I realize that Representative Ann Wagner stated that only the president could give a “stand down” order for a rescue operation. But right now, the only witness we have for this “stand down” order is Hicks, and at this point we don’t even know Gibson’s first name.
For now, one of yesterday’s most stunning revelations was the news that at no point did the U.S. ask the Libyans for permission to fly into their airspace for a rescue operation, presumably one of the first steps in putting together an operation like that. In other words, at no point during the seven hours did the ball get rolling on an effort to rescue them. With all of the U.S. military personnel, aircraft, and NATO air bases in Italy, Greece, and Turkey, nothing got moving. Baffling to the point of madness. If their had been an operation in the works that arrived too late, the public reaction would be completely different — the fury out there isn’t because these four Americans weren’t rescued in time; it’s because at this point, there’s no evidence anyone in our entire apparatus tried.
Let the facts of this investigation lead us to the conclusion, not the other way around.