The Benghazi Drama Is Never Going to End

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Photo: Patsy Lynch/Corbis

Senator John McCain declared that all evidence led him to believe it was a "massive cover-up." Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said the situation was as bad, if not worse, than Watergate, a measure he defended as impeachable for President Obama. Other Republicans have slingshot the same outrageous charges against the White House. This is the tone of debate at the Benghazi hearings — a series of policy Q&As that have gotten the GOP factually nowhere but emotionally everywhere.

House Republicans, led by Representative Darrell Issa's oversight committee, have dragged out the September attacks, which claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials at our Libyan consulate, for almost seven months now. The New York Times editorial board described the hearings this week as "conspiracy-mongering and a relentless effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton." And for good reason.

Since September, the main mental roadblock for the Republicans seems to be the question of, "Who knew what and when?" When did Hillary find out that Al Qaeda was responsible? Why did White House Press Secretary Jay Carney change his response? Did the CIA know this was going to happen? If so, why didn't the agency do anything about it?

This endless series of doubts was captured in Karl Rove's latest American Crossroads GPS ad released this morning, entitled "Benghazi," which flashes contradictory clips of conferences like a hyper-sped-up episode of The Americans. But it's likely the proliferation of questions is just a direct result of the White House pulling off a really poor PR job: It took far too long for the Obama administration to clearly report the findings of a December independent inquiry, which stated that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” were at fault here — all of which Clinton took full responsibility for. That delay left a void of response, ready to be filled with skepticism from eagerly awaiting House Republicans.

In a sense, the opposition wanted all the details in a story that was still developing. That drama continued this morning with an ABC exclusive report, in which the CIA was caught receiving direct input from the State Department to revise (or add) the intelligence reports released over the span of two days after the attacks. Here's an example of what was changed, courtesy of the Atlantic Wire:

This is an excerpt from 12:23 p.m. on September 14:

We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and currently available information continues to be evaluated.

This is the same excerpt, four hours later:

The We believe based on currently available information suggests that the demonstrations attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and currently available information continues to be evaluated. On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.

The Weekly Standard called the revisions "fresh evidence" that "senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assault." But the key phrase seems to be, "This assessment may change." And it did, because that's how these things work. If anything, the attention paid to the revisions today are fresh evidence that the Benghazi pseudo-controversy is not over yet.