Sunday, February 17, 2013

Obama and Rice on Benghazi

Obama knew of IED attacks in run-up to Benghazi strike, lawmaker says
Published February 15, 2013

President Obama knew about the IED attacks on the Benghazi consulate in the run-up to the deadly Sept. 11 assault, a top Republican lawmaker claims, suggesting the president was aware of the deteriorating security situation. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told him "the president was informed of the April and June attacks." One of those attacks, in June, blew a hole in the perimeter wall of the Benghazi compound. The two strikes were among dozens of security incidents recorded in the region in the months preceding Sept. 11, and in hindsight have been described as warning signs. 

The disclosure about Obama comes after a string of Capitol Hill hearings in which top administration officials downplayed how much they knew about the security situation at the compound in advance of the September attack. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at a hearing shortly before she left the administration, said she never saw an Aug. 16 State Department cable sent to her office that warned the consulate could not sustain a coordinated attack. 

"I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention," she said. The cable was first reported by Fox News. 

While Clinton claims her deputies never showed her the cable -- which has been described as the smoking-gun warning -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey later said they were in fact apprised of that cable.

Asked whether Obama had wanted anything done about the unraveling security situation in Benghazi, neither Clapper's office nor the National Security Council would address the question. 

A DNI spokesman, though, said the administration has been cooperative with Congress on their many Libya questions. "Since the attack on our facility in Benghazi, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the entire Intelligence Community, has worked closely with members of Congress to respond to all requests for information. We have testified before multiple committees, delivered numerous briefs, provided thousands of pages of intelligence data and answered nearly 200 written questions," the spokesman said. 

At his confirmation hearing for CIA Director, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan suggested information about what the president knew or what advice he was given falls into the category of "executive privilege" -- which the White House typically claims in order to not disclose information. 

Lawmakers have focused sharply in recent weeks on what the White House knew in advance of the attacks and what Obama specifically did on the night of the attacks. 
Republicans united on Thursday to stall the nomination of Chuck Hagel to succeed Panetta, largely over outstanding questions on the Libya issue. 

The White House on Thursday wrote a letter to key Republican senators disclosing that Obama did not talk to the Libyan president until the evening of Sept. 12, the next day. 

In pointed remarks, Graham said Obama talked to the Libyan government "after everybody was dead" and suggested the president could have made a difference had he gotten directly involved earlier. 

"You got a commander in chief who is absolutely disengaged," Graham later told Fox News. "You got the secretary of State never talking to the secretary of Defense." 

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice gave her first interview Thursday since she withdrew from consideration for secretary of State. Rice, who weathered tough criticism from Republicans for claiming the Sunday after the attack that the violence grew out of protests over an anti-Islam film, defended herself on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." 

She suggested she was the victim of bad intelligence, claiming she "shared the best information that our intelligence community had at the time." 
Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

On “The Daily Show” on Thursday, host Jon Stewart grilled United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice about the Obama administration’s response to the attacks on the U.S. consulat

He began by asking about the explanation she provided for the attacks during appearances on Sunday political talk shows just days after the incident. “I shared the best information that our intelligence community had at the time, and they provided the talking points that I used. And they were wrong in one respect, we learned subsequently, and that is that there wasn’t in fact a protest,” Rice said.

Stewart pressed her to explain why there was so much back-and-forth between government agencies and why no one seemed to have the straight story.

“There’s always confusion when you have a tragedy of that sort,” she said. “The bigger tragedy is that we’ve spent all of these months trying to figure out the origin of some talking points, which were cleared at the highest levels of the intelligence community, and in my opinion not enough time doing the service that we owe to our fallen colleagues.”

Agreeing with Rice’s assertion, Stewart asked why there seemed to be more effort put into ironing out talking points rather than preventing the attack in the first place. As he put it, “Why is there a bureaucratic system in place that is so tenacious with the explanation, yet seemingly abdicates a little bit of responsibility for the initial thing?”
Rice responded, rather indirectly, that the administration had convened an accountability review board and were implementing its recommendations. “That’s what we ought to be focusing on, we ought to be focusing on what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how we get it right,” she said.

Not entirely satisfied with Rice’s answer, Stewart pressed her: “Do you think the bureaucracy is more tenacious and detail-oriented when it comes to the political aspects of their job and less efficacious when it comes to some of the more brass nuts and bolts thing?”

“Folks were doing their very best with what they had,” she replied.

Stewart closed the interview by offering Rice the opportunity to say one thing to “those who still believe there is a secret under this and are pushing for it and are holding things up,” even encouraging her to “talk like a sailor.”

While she passed on that opportunity, she did end with a clear message. “They’re dead wrong. They are in fact doing a disservice to those we lost.”

You can watch the extended interview via "The Daily Show" website.

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