Most observers seem to agree that the Barack Obama–Mitt Romney–Candy Crowley debate over whether the attack on our Benghazi consulate resulted from terrorism was the low point for the Republican candidate. While Romney turned out to be right on the substance, he was clearly flustered by Crowley’s intervention in Obama’s favor on the question of the president had called the attack an act of terror the day after.
An old-time political hand in D.C., whom I know and who has advised and worked on many campaigns, is utterly convinced that the exchange was a setup of Romney by the Obama campaign and Crowley. I agree, based on the principle all lawyers know: never ask a question in the courtroom to which you don’t know the answer. After Romney argued that it took weeks for the Obama administration to admit that terrorism was involved, Obama claimed he had mentioned it the day after the attack, looked at Crowley, and asked her to “get the transcript.” Whereupon Crowley immediately responded “he [Obama] did in fact. So let me call it an act of terror.”
Obama, if he is as good a lawyer as he seems to believe, would not have asked Crowley that question unless he was confident that of her answer. And how did she know what “transcript” Obama had in mind? Crowley’s safe, indeed normal answer, should have been something like: “I am just the moderator here” or “I don’t have the transcript in front of me.” Instead, Crowley intervened to back up Obama’s accounting of the facts.
The only way to explain this is that the Obama campaign must have prepped Crowley before the debate. This may not be malign; Crowley may not have even wanted to help the Obama folks. The Obama campaign, to which Crowley as a journalist talks to all the time, may have been repeating to her several times in the week before the debate that the president indeed mentioned the word “terror” in his September 12 Rose Garden remarks. At best, Crowley was just an unwitting pawn in an Obama campaign’s high-risk effort to set up Romney — but at worst, she wanted to consciously help Obama by aiding and abetting their trap.
Romney, of course, should go into the next debate assuming that the moderator, as a member of the working media, will have a conscious or unconscious bias against him and will shade things in favor of the incumbent.