The Corner

Re: Benghazi, Rice and the ‘Consulate’

Jonah, those are all excellent points — and I especially agree that Steve has long been right (as have you) in pointing out the White House’s propensity to downplay terror attacks (I’d call them “jihadist” attacks if we were still allowed to say “jihad”). I just want to react to two things you cover, not to disagree but to make a couple of points worth making.

I do think Benghazi could be an impeachable scandal, and I don’t think this is an extreme position. Impeachment is a political remedy for gross abuses or power (including derelictions of duty). We do not yet have the answers about what happened on September 11 — most significantly, when did the commander-in-chief learn of the terrorist attack on the compound and what action did he take to defend Americans who were besieged for over seven hours under circumstances where there were U.S. military assets an hour away? We also do not know how the Mohammed movie cover-up was orchestrated, although the evidence and common sense point to the White House. With four Americans killed and the nation appallingly misled in the stretch-run of a presidential campaign, this is a far more consequential matter than those that led to the Watergate and Lewinsky investigations. A commander-in-chief’s dereliction of duty and his administration’s intentional lying to the American people — to say nothing of its overbearing prosecution of the filmmaker in a transparent effort to shift responsibility to him — would be impeachable offenses if they are proved.

Understand, I am not under any illusions that the Benghazi scandal will actually result in anyone’s impeachment, much less removal from office. Again, impeachment is a political remedy, not a legal one. At a critical political moment, Mitt Romney, as the GOP’s presidential candidate, was the leader of the president’s opposition party. For whatever reason, he calculated that it was in his interest not to focus on Benghazi — indeed, he and his advisers somehow decided it was to his advantage to allow no daylight between Obama’s handling of foreign affairs and what a President Romney would do.

I point this out not to dwell on daftness of this strategy, but to make the simple point that it is very hard to resurrect a serious scandal when the opposition’s standard-bearer treats it like a trifle and the matter thus fades away for three or four weeks. Even if Benghazi bears out our worst suspicions, the average person will reasonably ask: “How can this be impeachable when Romney didn’t even think it was worth talking about?”

Second, your excerpt of the Rice interview by Jake Tapper is very interesting — raising something I’d missed up until now. Amb. Rice is quoted as claiming: “[W]e had a substantial security presence with our personnel … and the consulate in Benghazi. Tragically, two of the four Americans who were killed there were providing security. That was their function.” (Emphasis added.)

Question: Why did Rice refer to our “consulate in Benghazi”?

We now know that the U.S. facility in Benghazi was not a consulate. Consular functions in Libya are handled in Tripoli. More to the point, Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, has explained that the “talking points” from the CIA off which Rice was working had been edited by the White House to reflect that there was no consulate in Benghazi. As Fox News reported on November 17:

The White House denied allegations Saturday that it scrubbed terrorist involvement from original CIA talking points on the fatal Libya attacks – part of a weekend back and forth in which both parties continued to defend their positions.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said only one minor change was made by the Oval Office.

“The only edit that was made by the White House and also by the State Department was to change the word ‘consulate’ to the word ‘diplomatic facility,’ since the facility in Benghazi was not formally a consulate,” Rhodes told reporters Saturday aboard Air Force One.

“We were provided with points by the intelligence community that represented their assessment. The only edit made by the White House was the factual edit about how to refer to the facility,” Rhodes also said.

This raises at least two issues. First, it certainly appears that Ambassador Rice was not going strictly by the CIA talking points, as she has claimed. She said it was a consulate even though the White House had taken pains to remove the designation “consulate” from the talking points.

Second, and more importantly, what was the administration up to in Benghazi? In the Jake Tapper interview, Rice asserted — at least incorrectly, if not falsely — that two of the Americans killed on September 11 had the assigned “function” of “providing security” for a “consulate.”

By the administration’s own admission, the facility was not a consulate. So what exactly were those two Americans doing at this “diplomatic facility”? 

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