Scraping The Bottom Of The Benghazi Scandal Barrel

Thanks to CBS News' warmed-over and underwhelming reporting, the political world is talking about the 2012 Benghazi attacks again and the litany of “lingering questions” that were answered long ago. And that of course means the emergence of cranks and hucksters who'll try to edge their way into the shrinking Benghazi spotlight and make a few headlines for themselves. Enter Joseph diGenova, attorney for a number of Benghazi “whistleblowers” and established purveyor of fabrications, who appeared on Washington, DC's WMAL on October 28 to claim that “we have reason to believe” that during the response to the Benghazi attack “people were relieved of their duty because they insisted that there be a military response.”

This idea that the Obama administration, acting on political considerations, deliberately withheld military assistance from the people under attack in Benghazi is at the core of the conservative obsession with Benghazi, even though there isn't any evidence to substantiate the claim.

DiGenova's specific allegation that people were relieved of duty for trying to order a military response suffers from the reality that a military response was ordered. Here's how Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz put it in their book on the Benghazi attacks, Under Fire: “Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: 'Lean forward and get there as fast as you can.'” As far as the chain of command goes, Leon Panetta was pretty high up (and he was acting on orders from President Obama), so it's not clear who would have been relieved for implementing the orders of the Secretary of Defense. 

The Spain-based team was one of three units deployed at Panetta's orders; none of those forces made it to Libya until 11 hours after the Benghazi survivors were evacuated. As senior military experts have explained, logistical issues prevented that aid from arriving on time. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the idea that assistance could have mobilized and arrived at the drop of a hat reflects “a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”

DiGenova, on the other hand, said he has “very, very good evidence that people were actually relieved of command because they refused not to try and dispatch troops and some response.” That “very, very good evidence” was, unfortunately, too good to share with WMAL's listeners, but diGenova did say he's “working on trying to establish that with the news organizations,” whatever that means.

One of the last times diGenova appeared on WMAL to talk Benghazi he claimed that the real reason the administration was “so deeply concerned” about the Benghazi investigation is that it would reveal the theft of 400 surface-to-air missiles stolen by terrorists. He didn't name his sources, and he didn't provide any actual proof, but his word was good enough to get the “bombshell” story picked up by Fox News and National Review and other organs of the conservative media because that's how these things work.

For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attack, read The Benghazi Hoax, the new e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.