“The biggest coverup that we’ve experienced in our history.”
That’s the label Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma puts on the issue of who said what and when after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Now, to be fair, no one has ever accused Senator Inhofe of being the sharpest tack in the drawer. But that statement is stunning, even for him.
Has the good senator never heard of Watergate? The gentleman from Oklahoma was born in 1934, so he was in his late thirties when Richard Nixon tried to subvert the 1972 election, breaking innumerable laws and then attempting to cover up his illegalities on the way to becoming the only president to resign the office.
Senator Inhofe was even older when Iran-Contra embroiled the Reagan administration in scandal and coverup. The scandal involved selling arms to Iran, then under an arms embargo, with the expectation that the profits would be channeled to the Nicaraguan Contras. Aiding the anti-Sandinista rebels was prohibited under the Boland amendment. After breaking a number of laws, the administration then tried to cover up its involvement when news reports revealed the two separate transactions.
But Senator Inhofe calls Benghazi the “biggest coverup” in American history.
This is not to minimize the tragedy that occurred on September 11. The public and the Congress need to know everything possible about the events that led to the deaths of four Americans and to whether there were security lapses during the raid and whether State Department officials ignored requests for greater security in Libya in the months before.
Instead of probing what happened before and during the Benghazi assault, a phalanx of Republican senators is focusing on what Ambassador Susan Rice, a leading candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, said on the Sunday morning talk shows five days after the raid. These senators are now parsing a set of talking points prepared at the request of a member of Congress three days after the assault and subsequently used by Rice during her television appearances.
Here are the talking points:
“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 in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
“This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.
“The investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.”
Four brief sentences totaling 94 words. Note the points mention “extremists” and they assert “this assessment may change.”
The CIA-drafted talking points initially included specific mention of terrorist groups, later removed for fearing of tipping off the bad guys. That’s hardly credible since the terrorists must know we know who they are, but there’s no accounting for the logic of spookdom.
Regardless, this hardly seems serious in itself, certainly not serious enough to disqualify Rice as secretary of state. Yet a group of Republican senators allege Rice shilled for the administration, which wanted to play down the threat of terrorism weeks before the election. Admitting Benghazi was a terrorist attack, so the allegation goes, would undermine the administration’s claim it had seriously weakened the al-Qaeda network.
In other words, a coverup for political reasons. But who’s really playing politics here?
Senator John McCain, who has led the charge against Rice, still may be smarting from his defeat at the hands of Barack Obama four years ago. Republicans may be attacking Rice because they don’t want to investigate the security lapses in Benghazi for fear a probe would focus on the $350 million they stripped in recent years from State Department requests for security funding.
More broadly, Republicans may be using Benghazi to wound the recently reelected president, a president they could not defeat at the polls and who has them at a disadvantage in ongoing negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff. Tarnishing Obama on Benghazi might weaken him in the budget talks.
Lost in all the political gamesmanship are the real issues centering on security and whether the beleaguered consulate asked for help the night of the attack and whether help was forthcoming.
GOP attacks on Rice may well backfire, encouraging the president to name Rice as secretary of state. Obama would not relish looking weak domestically by caving before Republican threats to block her nomination, and choosing someone else to replace Clinton would undermine the president’s international stature.
Besides, in lieu of any other evidence against her, Ambassador Rice is a solid choice as America’s top diplomat. Stand tough, Mr. President.