Fox News contributor Byron York suggested that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's congressional testimony on Benghazi indicated that President Obama failed to order the military to protect Americans under attack. However, Panetta testified that Obama explicitly directed him to take military action to protect American lives.
On Fox's America's Newsroom on Friday, guest host Rick Folbaum aired clips of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questioning Panetta during Thursday's hearing about the attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. York described Panetta's testimony as confirming that "[a]fter having a prescheduled meeting in the afternoon on that day, Secretary Panetta spoke to [President Obama] no more." York then said, “I think what became clear with Lindsey Graham's questioning about possible military activity is that nobody in the Pentagon would have ordered military action without a specific order from the president. And the president wasn't around.”
But Panetta's very testimony refutes York's accusation: Panetta made it clear that Obama ordered Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and himself to take all necessary action to protect Americans under attack.
During the hearing, when Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) asked Panetta about conversations he had had with the president during the attack, Panetta testified, “We had just picked up the information that something was happening, that there was an apparent attack going on in Benghazi. And I informed the president of that fact, and he at that point directed both myself and General Dempsey to do everything we needed to do to try to protect lives there.” Panetta later reiterated, "[Obama] basically said, 'Do whatever you need to do to be able to protect our people there.' "
As the Associated Press reported, “Panetta said he and Dempsey were meeting with Obama when they first learned of the Libya assault. He said the president told them to deploy forces as quickly as possible.”
Indeed, Panetta did deploy forces. The AP stated: “Between midnight and 2 a.m. on the night of the attack, Panetta issued orders, telling two Marine anti-terrorism teams based in Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to Libya, and he ordered a team of special operations forces in Central Europe and another team of special operations forces in the U.S. to prepare to deploy to a staging base in Europe.”
While a six-member quick reaction team already in Benghazi and reinforcements from the U.S embassy in Tripoli did help defend the Benghazi consulate, the AP article went on to note that unfortunately "[d]efense officials have repeatedly said that even if the military had been able to get units there a bit faster, there was no way they could have gotten there in time to make any difference in the deaths of the four Americans."
The independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up by the State Department to investigate the Benghazi attack, determined there was “no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders,” and continued, “Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack ... was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.”
The America's Newsroom segment also featured former Romney national security spokesman Richard Grenell pushing a misleading attack on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Grenell claimed that Clinton was “hands-off” during the Benghazi attack, adding, “These employees that were under attack were State Department employees. Where was Secretary Clinton?” Grenell later alleged, "[N]ow we find out she wasn't even talking to her colleagues." During Thursday's hearing, both Panetta and Dempsey testified that they did not speak directly to Clinton during the Benghazi attack.
But Clinton's January 23 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes it clear that she was engaged with developments in Benghazi, continuously communicating with administration officials and the intelligence community on “every possible option” that could be taken (via Nexis):
CLINTON: Regarding what I was doing on September 11th, I was at the State Department all day and late into the night. At the -- during most of the day, prior to getting notice of the attack on our compound at Benghazi, we were very focused on our embassy in Cairo.
I was notified of the attack shortly after 4 p.m. Over the following hours we were in continuous meetings and conversations, both within the department, with our team in Tripoli, with the interagency and internationally. I instructed our senior department officials and our diplomatic security personnel to consider every option to just break down the doors of the Libyan officials to get as much security support as we possibly could to coordinate with them. I spoke to the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, several times. I briefed him on developments. I sought all possible support from the White House, which they quickly provided. Tom was my first call.
I spoke with our charge in Tripoli to get situation updates. I spoke with former CIA Director Petraeus to confer and coordinate, given the presence of his facility, which, of course, was not well- known but was something that we knew and wanted to make sure we were closely lashed up together. I talked with the then-Libyan National Congress president to press him on greater support, not only in Benghazi but also in Tripoli. I participated in a secure video conference of senior officials from the intelligence community, the White House and DOD. We were going over every possible option, reviewing all that was available to us, any actions we could take. We were reaching out to everyone we could find to try to get an update about Ambassador Chris Stevens, also our information specialist, Sean Smith. So it was a constant ongoing discussion and sets of meetings. I spoke with President Obama later in the evening to, you know, bring him up to date, to hear his perspective. Obviously, we kept talking with everyone during the night. Early in the morning on the 12th I spoke with General Dempsey, again with Tom Donilon.
Even Fox News host Martha MacCallum has highlighted Clinton's involvement during the September 11 attack -- she said to Sen. Graham on Thursday's edition of America's Newsroom, “We know that Hillary Clinton was basically up all night, answering phone calls and trying to get the governments in the area to help, you know, she said she was yelling on the phone.”