Who Are The Right-Wing Media's Benghazi Lawyers Victoria Toensing And Joseph diGenova?

Victoria Toensing and her husband and legal partner Joseph diGenova are pushing claims that anonymous State Department and CIA “whistleblowers” have been blocked and threatened by the Obama administration to prevent their testifying on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Toensing and diGenova are longtime Republican activists, and Toensing has a history of pushing dubious claims and falsehoods into the media.

Toensing And diGenova Are Pushing Claims That Obama Administration Is Threatening Benghazi Witnesses In Cover-Up

Toensing And diGenova Are Pushing Claims In The Media That Obama Administration Is Issuing Threats To Witnesses About Benghazi. According to Fox News, Toensing is now representing one of the supposed whistleblowers in her role with diGenova & Toensing, where she and her husband are partners. [Media Matters, 4/30/13; Fox News, 4/29/13; Breitbart.com, 4/29/13]

Toensing And diGenova Are Longtime Republicans

Toensing And diGenova Both Identify As Republicans. [DiGenovaToensing.com, accessed 4/30/13; DiGenovaToensing.com, accessed 4/30/13]

Toensing Served As Reagan Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Toensing served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration and was Sen. Barry Goldwater's chief counsel. [DiGenovaToensing.com, accessed 4/30/13]

Toensing And diGenova Both Served As Advisers To Romney In 2008. The two previously supported and advised the campaign of Fred Thompson. [American Presidency Project, accessed 4/30/13]

Toensing Has Donated More Than $30,000 To GOP Candidates And Causes. According to Federal Election Commission data, Toensing has donated more than $30,000 to Republican causes, including $1,000 to Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. Toensing contributed a total of $1,150 to Democratic candidates. [FEC.gov, accessed 4/30/13Media Matters7/13/10] FEC.gov, accessed 4/30/13Media Matters,7/13/10]

diGenova Has Donated At Least $18,000 To GOP Candidates And Causes. Overwhelmingly Contributed To Republican Causes. According to Federal Election Commission data, diGenova has donated at least $18,000  to Republican candidates or organizations that support Republican campaigns. diGenova also donated at least $450 to Democratic and Independent candidates. [FEC.gov, accessed 4/30/13]

Toensing Has Been Criticized For Lacking “Impartiality, Non-Partisanship, And Professionalism” 

The Pair Has A History Of Investigating Democrats And Defending Republicans Under Investigation. In a 1998 profile, The Washington Post reported:

Name a high-profile investigation in this city and chances are the prosecutorial pair is involved.

Charges that Republican Rep. Dan Burton improperly demanded campaign contributions from a lobbyist for Pakistan? DiGenova and Toensing are the Indiana congressman's personal attorneys.

Newt Gingrich's ethics problems? Toensing represents the speaker's wife, Marianne, to ensure her compliance with House ethics rules.

A House committee investigation of the Teamsters and the union's links to improper Democratic fund-raising? DiGenova and Toensing are leading the probe as outside counsel. [Washington Post2/27/98]

They Have Been Criticized For “Non-Stop Mugging” And For Lacking “Impartiality, Non-Partisanship, And Professionalism.” In 1998, Toensing, who was working as outside counsel for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was criticized for her actions in connection with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A February 5, 1998, Roll Call article (via Nexis) reported: “Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo) launched a stinging attack on the two lead attorneys investigating the Teamsters campaign finance scandal yesterday, alleging that the attorneys have lost their objectivity because of their frequent television appearances and 'participation' in the scandal involving ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.” The article also reported:

Clay's rebuke of former independent counsel Joseph diGenova and his wife and law firm partner, Victoria Toensing, who were hired in November by a House Education and the Workforce subcommittee, came in a letter to Chairman Bill Goodling (R-Pa) yesterday.

“Sadly, Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing have become so closely aligned with the President's critics and so personally identified with the scandal itself as to have relinquished the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism required of leaders of a serious congressional investigation,” wrote Clay, the ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

“Put more bluntly,” Clay added, “the couple's relentless self-promotion and non-stop mugging for the likes of Geraldo Rivera - however good for business and their egos - is unseemly, undignified, unworthy of this committee, and generally detrimental to important Congressional functions.”

Clay said in his letter that a LEXIS/NEXIS search found 166 citations of diGenova and Toensing commenting on the Lewinsky affair between Jan. 21 and Feb. 4. The letter came even as Republicans approved an additional $750,000 for the diGenova-Toensing investigation. [Roll Call, 2/5/98; Media Matters, 7/13/10]

Toensing and diGenova Were Criticized For Conflict Of Interest For Dual Role In Separate DOJ Investigations. Toensing and diGenova were criticized for serving as special counsel in the House Education and the Workforce Committee probe into Justice Department oversight of the Teamsters union while also representing Dan Burton, the committee's chairman at the time, in a separate Justice Department probe. A December 18, 1997, Roll Call article (via Nexis) reported: “Rep. Bill Clay (Mo), the full committee's ranking Democrat, has raised questions about the fact that the two attorneys are also representing Burton in the Justice Department's investigation of charges that the Government Reform and Oversight chairman tried to extort campaign money from a lobbyist during the 1996 election cycle.” The article also reported:

Democrats believe this creates a conflict of interest because [Rep. Pete] Hoekstra's [R-MI] subcommittee plans to investigate the Justice Department's decade-long oversight of the Teamsters, specifically the agency's handling of the union's 1996 presidential election.

Clay says that diGenova and Toensing, a former chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan Administration, should not lead a Congressional investigation of the Justice Department while the department is conducting a criminal investigation of one of their outside clients. [Roll Call, 12/18/97; Media Matters, 7/13/10]

Toensing Has A History Of Pushing Falsehoods In The Media

Toensing Attempted To Link The Resignation Of David Petraeus To The Benghazi Attack. In November 2012, Toensing wrote an op-ed for Fox News attempting to draw a link between the Benghazi attack and the abrupt resignation of former CIA director David Petraeus. [Media Matters, 4/30/13]

Toensing Pushed Media Falsehood That Plame's CIA Status Was Widely Known On D.C. “Cocktail Circuit.” Toensing and co-author Bruce Sanford promoted the false claim -- popular in right-wing media circles -- that Valerie Plame's CIA status was known “on the Washington cocktail circuit” prior to its disclosure by columnist Robert Novak. Toensing and Sanford wrote in a January 12, 2005, op-ed:

Merely knowing that Plame works for the CIA does not provide the knowledge that the government is keeping her relationship secret. In fact, just the opposite is the case. If it were known on the Washington cocktail circuit, as has been alleged, that Wilson's wife is with the agency, a possessor of that gossip would have no reason to believe that information is classified -- or that “affirmative measures” were being taken to protect her cover. [The Washington Post, 1/12/05]

  • Fitzgerald: Plame's Status Wasn't “Widely Known Outside The Intelligence Community.” In an October 28, 2005, press conference announcing the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald refuted the falsehood, stating: “Valerie [Plame] Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community. Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.” [Washington Post1/12/05Media Matters7/13/10]

Toensing Advanced Falsehood That “Plame Was Not Covert.” In a February 18, 2007, op-ed for The Washington Post, Toensing wrote: “On Dec. 30, 2003, the day Fitzgerald was appointed special counsel, he should have known (all he had to do was ask the CIA) that Plame was not covert, knowledge that should have stopped the investigation right there.” [Washington Post, 2/18/07]

  • CIA Director: Plame “Was A Covert Agent.” Rep. Henry Waxman stated on March 16, 2007, in a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, that then-CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed to him that Plame was “a covert agent.” Waxman stated: “General Hayden, the head of the CIA, told me personally that she was -- that if I said that she was a covert agent, it wouldn't be an incorrect statement.” [Media Matters7/13/10]

Toensing And diGenova Involved In Discredited And Retracted Article About President Clinton. In a February 27, 1998, article on Toensing and diGenova's involvement in a retracted Dallas Morning News article claiming that a Secret Service agent had witnessed President Clinton and Lewinsky in a “compromising situation,” The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported:

The melodrama began when Toensing was approached by an intermediary for a Secret Service agent who was said to be willing to testify that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky in a compromising situation. DiGenova passed this on to Morning News reporter David Jackson (“Joe and I exchanged a few words over that,” Toensing says), and the paper published the story in its Internet edition, attributing the account to an unnamed lawyer “familiar with the negotiations.” But by then the intermediary had told Toensing the agent was backing off.

Hours later, the Morning News retracted the report, saying the “longtime Washington lawyer” had said the information was “inaccurate.”

The couple now say that Toensing, taking a call from Jackson hours before deadline, told the reporter: “If Joe is your source, it's wrong.”

“The bottom line is, they were told not to print and they chose to print,” diGenova says. “I don't know how much more helpful you can be to a newspaper than to tell them not to print.”

Carl Leubsdorf, the paper's Washington bureau chief, says: “The reporter's recollection of that conversation is quite different. He was told that 'if Joe told you that, he shouldn't have.' If it had been the other way, the story of course would have been reassessed at that point.” [Washington Post, 2/27/98

Benghazi Witnesses Have Not Been Silenced

Benghazi Witnesses Have Reportedly Testified To FBI, Independent Benghazi Review, Spoken To Senator. Contrary to the suggestion that the Obama administration has prevented Benghazi witnesses from testifying, survivors have reportedly been interviewed by the FBI for its on-going criminal investigation into the attack and spoken to investigators from the State Department's independent review of the event. The Senate Intelligence committee reportedly received redacted transcripts from the FBI interviews of the survivors and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said he's spoken with some of the survivors. [CBSNews.com, 3/11/13; Huffington Post, 12/18/12; Fox News, Special Report, 3/15/13]