What were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton thinking? Why did they keep pitching the line that the September 11, 2012, Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans started as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video?
One possible explanation is confusion. There was such an attack on our embassy in Cairo earlier that day that fit that description.
When Hillary Clinton on September 14 talked, over the caskets of the Americans slain in Benghazi, of a “mob” and “violent attacks,” she could have been referring to the attacks in Cairo. In that case, she would not exactly have been lying, as many have charged.
But she would have been misleading people, quite possibly intentionally. We know that she assured one victim’s father, Charles Woods, that “we’re going to prosecute that person that made the video.”
At least one person, by the way, was not misled. “I knew that she wasn’t telling the truth,” Woods said after the House committee hearing on Benghazi last week.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Clinton was knowingly attempting to mislead. She certainly knows the difference between Cairo and Benghazi.
And it’s undisputed that Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 man in our Libya embassy, reported that it was an “attack” on September 11. That was the word he heard in his last conversation with Christopher Stevens.
It’s undisputed as well, after testimony at the House committee hearing last week, that Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary of State’s Near Eastern division, e-mailed on September 12 that “the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”
That e-mail went to Clinton counselor Cheryl Mills and State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, among others. You may remember Mills as one of the lawyers defending Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial.
On September 15, the day after Clinton’s assurances to Woods, State Department and White House officials prepared talking points for members of Congress and for ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who was scheduled to go on five Sunday talk shows the next day.
Who chose Rice as the administration’s spokesman? As Barack Obama said after the election, when she was reportedly under consideration to be the next secretary of state, Rice had “nothing to do” with Benghazi.
Selecting which officials go on the Sunday talk shows is a White House function. Either the president or someone who had good reason to believe he was reflecting Obama’s wishes selected Rice, who was out of the loop on the issue.
The expectation must have been that she would say exactly what she was told — and would not betray any inconvenient facts known to those in the loop like Clinton.
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes got hold of the series of September 15 e-mails in which White House and State Department officials prepared the talking points.
References to warnings State received before September 11 of Ansar al-Sharia–and al-Qaeda-linked attacks in Benghazi were deleted. Nuland describes these as “issues . . . of my building’s leadership.”
The final talking points said, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations 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. diplomatic post and subsequently its annex.” Rice went on TV and parroted the line.
That was refuted by Hicks. The video was a “non-event” in Libya, he told the House committee. And he testified that he was chastised by none other than Mills for briefing Republican representative Jason Chaffetz without a lawyer present.
The FBI did not find time to interview Hicks. But State found time to yank him out of his job and give him a desk job he regards as a demotion.
Obama continued to attribute the Benghazi attack to a protest against a video on September 18 (Letterman), September 20 (Univision), and September 25 (The View and the United Nations).
There were obvious cynical political motives for attempting to mislead voters during a closely contested presidential campaign.
Obama did not want his theme of “Osama is dead, al-Qaeda is on the run” to be undercut by an Islamist terrorist attack on our ambassador.
Clinton did not want her department’s denial of pleas for additional security in Libya to become known.
But maybe they were also trying to deceive themselves. Which may be even more disturbing.
― Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor, and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2013 The Washington Examiner