ABC's "Exclusive" Benghazi Report Shows Nothing New
Jonathan Karl's Report Gives Fodder To Right-Wing Scandal Mongers
Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN
ABC News is buying into right-wing scandal mongering over the tragic September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, with an "exclusive" report that doesn't stand up to minimal scrutiny, with flaws that are being used by the right to call for a major investigation.
The so-called "exclusive" report, posted at ABCNews.com, purports to uncover dramatic new developments in the right wing's Benghazi witch hunt, but in reality it is little more than a rehash of previously covered debates over whose input was given to the early draft of intelligence talking points put together in the early days of the investigation into the attacks. None of this largely rehashed debate disproves what Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified in November: that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points, and that references to terrorist groups in Libya were removed in order to avoid tipping off those groups.
The May 10 ABC News report focuses on the much discussed CIA talking points that were prepared in the days immediately after the September 11, 2012, attack, and which were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in her appearance on several news programs to discuss those attacks. Nothing in the ABC News report focuses on the actual events of September 11, 2012, only on the editing process of a talking points memo and what information should be made available for public dissemination during an ongoing investigation into a terrorist attack:
ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.
White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.
Karl goes on to explore whether this disproves comments White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made in late November 2012, more than 2 months after the attack, about the role the White House and the State Department played in editing the final version of those talking points; whether the editing process proves that the White House was engaged in an effort to downplay the role of terrorism in its public statements immediately after the attack; and whether the editing process proves that the talking points were scrubbed of references to terror solely for political reasons.
Karl's report feeds into the right-wing conspiracy mongering over the Benghazi attacks and the desperate campaign to fabricate a cover-up. Friday morning, Fox News hosts cited the report as evidence that a major investigation was needed.
Yet Karl's speculation is easily disproved.
The entirety of the ABC News report focuses on emails that lay out the process of drafting the intelligence community's talking points and the debate over whether to include references to terrorist groups, and whether those references were "scrubbed" to cover up failures at the State Department. What Karl doesn't point out is that the former head of the CIA said that this is not the case. After Petraeus gave closed-door testimony before congressional leaders in November, The New York Times reported:
David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
Karl also forwards the notion that the White House was aggressively trying to downplay the role that terrorism played for political reasons while the President was calling the attacks an act of terror at the same time. In his first public comments after the attack, President Obama very clearly referred to the attack as an act of terror. One day later, Obama again referred to the Benghazi attacks as an act of terror. Those comments came September 12 and September 13. Yet Karl implies that edits to a document that were made on September 14, after Obama had already labeled the attack an act of terror, demonstrate that the administration was trying to downplay the role that terror played.
This leaves Karl with the "exclusive" that emails weighing in on early drafts of the talking points amounts to a contradiction with comments Carney made in November:
"Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC's best assessments of what they thought had happened," Carney told reporters at the White House press briefing on November 28, 2012. "The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word 'consulate' to 'diplomatic facility' because 'consulate' was inaccurate."
But as Carney notes in comments printed at the end of the ABC News report, there has never been a question that multiple agencies had input into the formation of the talking points, which in the end were drafted by the intelligence community:
"The CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points," Carney said. "The fact that there are inputs is always the case in a process like this, but the only edits made by anyone here at the White House were stylistic and nonsubstantive. They corrected the description of the building or the facility in Benghazi from consulate to diplomatic facility and the like. And ultimately, this all has been discussed and reviewed and provided in enormous levels of detail by the administration to Congressional investigators, and the attempt to politicize the talking points, again, is part of an effort to, you know, chase after what isn't the substance here."
ABC is left with a major exclusive dissecting the distinction between input and editing.