Closed-door meetings between key intelligence officials and members of Congress failed to provide the smoking gun Republicans had sought to support their claim that the Obama administration perpetrated an elaborate cover-up of the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
But last week’s sessions of the House and Senate Intelligence committees did discredit the “talking points” proffered by administration officials in the wake of the attack that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others dead.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill — and a goodly number of conservative commentators — have accused the White House of hiding the truth from the American people because of Democratic President Obama’s re-election bid.
It is revealing that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., did not lend his voice to the chorus of GOP extremists.
“I know the narrative was wrong, and the intelligence was right,” Rogers said of the reason the White House initially gave for the attack on the Benghazi outpost. “ … We’re going to get to the bottom of how that happened.”
Days after the Sept. 11 violent uprising, the president and top aides, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, described the incident as a protest against an anti-Islam video that spontaneously turned violent. They played down any possible link to al-Qaida, despite evidence to the contrary.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus told the intelligence committees that the reference to al-Qaida was removed from the final version of the talking points, but he conceded that he was not sure who or which federal agency deleted it.
The absence of a clear explanation from the former top intelligence official suggests that Republicans who are accusing the White House of a cover-up are trying to make political hay with this unfortunate situation.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she does not believe the administration altered the talking points document for political reasons, but she did express concern about how the narrative was created. It was clear from the outset that the military-style assault on the Benghazi outpost was much more than a public protest over the anti-Islam video.
“We’re going to find out who made changes in the original statement,” Feinstein said. “Until we do, I really think it’s unwarranted to make accusations.”
The senator has confirmed that intelligence officials told her in closed briefings that they were reluctant to name any particular terrorist group without being certain.
But if they did not name a particular group as being responsible, were they unequivocal in their assessment that it was a terrorist attack?
That’s a question deserving of a nonpolitical, objective answer.
President Obama’s re-election — in the midst of the accusations by Republicans of a cover-up of the Benghazi attack — makes it clear that a majority of the American people do not buy the conspiracy theories.
However, it does not mean the facts surrounding the death of Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans are unimportant.
There are lessons to be learned from what occurred in Libya, which is why Congress must pursue its investigation to the fullest.
That said, President Obama’s Republican detractors should tone down their rhetoric.
They’re coming across as sore losers.