Right-wing media are using a congressional hearing to push new myths about the Obama administration's response to the September 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, these myths are discredited by previous congressional reports and testimony, which show that the politicized nature of the hearings come from right-wing media and Congressional Republicans, that the military could not have rescued personnel from the second attack, that the administration was in constant communication at all levels during the attacks, and that the intelligence community believed there was a link to an anti-Islam video at the time of the attacks.
MYTH: Latest Benghazi Hearing Is Apolitical
Fox News' Brian Kilmeade Attacks The Claim That Benghazi Hearings Are “Politically Driven.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that because self-identified whistleblowers are testifying at congressional hearings on Benghazi at a time that elections are not being held, the hearings can't be politically driven, saying “politics is out, and whistleblowers are in”:
KILMEADE: [A]nyone who says this is politically driven, or it's against the president, that's out the window. Because if there's a non-political season in this world in American politics, it's now. The mid-terms aren't close --
STEVE DOOCY [co-host]: Sure.
KILMEADE: And the president is not running. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/7/13, via Media Matters]
FACT: Right-Wing Media And Congressional Republicans Have Politicized The Hearings
Fox News' John Bolton: “I Hope [Benghazi] Is A Cover Up ... If It Was Merely A Political Cover-Up Then There Can Be A Political Cost To Pay.” On Your World, Fox News contributor John Bolton said he hoped the hearings found that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Obama administration had engaged in a “political cover up” by altering CIA talking points to suggest that the attacks came in response to an anti-Islam video:
BOLTON: I'd have to say for the good of the country, I hope it is a cover up rather than the alternative, which is the Obama administration was so blind to the reality of the threat of Islamic terrorism, the continued threat from Al Qaeda... If that's the problem there's no cure for it. If it was merely a political cover-up then there can be a political cost to pay. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 5/6/13, via Media Matters]
Lawyers Representing The “Whistleblowers” In Hearings Are Long-Time GOP Activists With History Of Pushing Discredited Claims. The lawyers claiming to represent some of the witnesses at the Benghazi hearing, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, are long-time Republicans known for pushing false claims in the media and for having conflicts of interest in their professional work. They have both served as advisors to Republican candidates and donated thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and causes, and have been criticized for a conflict of interest for serving in a dual role in separate Justice Department investigations and for dropping “the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism required” by their roles as leaders of a congressional investigation. [Media Matters, 4/30/13; 5/6/13]
Congressional Democrats Criticized House GOP Report For “Unnecessarily Politicizing Our National Security.” A congressional report on Benghazi that was authored by five Republican committee chairmen was criticized by the ranking Democrats on those committees in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, in which they said the report is “unnecessarily politicizing our national security”:
We are writing to strongly object to your decision to issue a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi and dispense with House procedures for vetting official committee reports to correct inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. By abandoning regular order and excluding Democratic Members entirely from this process, you are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions. [House Oversight Committee, 5/6/13, via Media Matters]
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Accused Republicans Of Withholding Information From Democrats. On May 6, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a statement in which he accused Republican committee members of issuing “a partisan report with reckless and false accusations” and claimed interview information was withheld from committee Democrats:
CUMMINGS: I also believe Members of Congress have an obligation to actually investigate claims before coming to conclusions and making public accusations. Unfortunately, House Republicans have taken the opposite approach. They issued a partisan report with reckless and false accusations against the former Secretary of State, they have completely concealed Mr. Thompson from Democratic Committee Members, and they have failed to make even basic inquiries to the Intelligence Community, the Defense Department, or the State Department to vet specific allegations. Instead, they have leaked snippets of interview transcripts to national media outlets in a selective and distorted manner to drum up publicity for their hearing. This is investigation by press release and does a disservice to our common goal of ensuring that our diplomatic corps serving overseas has the best protection possible to do its critical work. [House Oversight Committee, 5/6/13]
State Dept. Spokesman: Congressional Republicans Have Not Shared Witness Transcripts With Us, Told Us How This Hearing Was Formed. In a May 2013 State Department Press Briefing, Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell pointed out that the hearings had been convened without any interaction with the State Department:
VENTRELL: I mean, it's a little bit hard for us to - given that we don't have a lot of information about how the hearing was scheduled and the various sort of formation of the majority's decision to have this hearing, it's a little bit hard to comment on the witnesses. Let me do - let me say one thing here, though, at the very top. We have always encouraged any State Department employee who wants to share their personal story, whether it be to the ARB or the Congress to tell the truth, period, full stop, end of story. That's long been our position. We've made that clear from the start. In terms of these particular individuals, the committee didn't come to us asking witnesses. We found out through the media and through the announcement the same way you all did. In terms of these potential transcripts out there, we haven't seen the transcripts. [State.gov, 5/6/13]
MYTH: Obama Admin Stopped Rescue Team That Could Have Prevented Second Attack
Fox's Bret Baier: The Second Team Of Special Forces From Tripoli “Would Have Been There In Time For the Second Attack.” On the May 6 edition of Special Report, Fox anchor Bret Baier misrepresented what former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks reportedly told congressional investigators, claiming that a team of special forces troops would have arrived in time for an attack on the CIA annex had they not been told not to go:
BAIER: Charles, in this testimony that -- we have already seen some of this interview with Greg Hicks, the number two guy, again, on the ground, he specifically says that special forces in Tripoli were told to stand down and not get on a C-130 that was going to go from Tripoli to Benghazi that would have been there in time for the second attack, the second wave. They were told to not get on that plane. [Fox News, Special Report, 5/6/13, via Media Matters, emphasis added]
FACT: Special Forces Team In Tripoli Was Not Scheduled To Leave Until After The Second Attack Began
Wash. Post's Ignatius: Mortar Assault Began At 5:15 A.M. In his description of the “detailed CIA timeline” of the events that occurred during the attack in Benghazi, Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius noted that that the second attack of the night began at 5:15:
5:15 a.m.: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don't know they're in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are they observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sites earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded. [The Washington Post, 11/1/12]
Gregory Hicks: Tripoli Special Forces Were Scheduled To Take Off Between 6:00 And 6:30 A.M. According to transcripts of what Gregory Hicks -- one of the witnesses speaking at the hearing -- told congressional investigators in April, the Tripoli special forces were scheduled to take off after 6:00 a.m. local time, approximately 45 minutes after the attack at the CIA annex that killed two people:
Q: And was there a second team that was organized? Could you tell us about the second team?
A: Right. The second team -- the Defense Attache worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning -- sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time -- at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly.
Q: So what time did the second rescue team ??
A: Well, again, they flew -- I think that flight took off sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. [CBS News, 5/6/13]
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): Troops From Tripoli “Would Have Arrived After The Attack.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican member of the House Oversight Committee who has actively pursued investigations into the Benghazi attacks, told The Washington Post the second force “would have arrived after the attack on the CIA base”:
Chaffetz said the troops who were not allowed to travel to Benghazi would have arrived after the attack on the CIA base but may have provided first aid to wounded personnel. He noted that the order to keep them from traveling was given before the second attack. [The Washington Post, 5/6/13]
Accountability Review Board Chief Tom Pickering: “Within Those Time Frames, Nothing Could Have Been Done.” On Your World, Fox News contributor James Rosen played a clip of former U.N. Ambassador Tom Pickering explaining to radio host Alan Colmes that “nothing could have been done” to save the lives of those killed in the initial attack and subsequent attacks in Benghazi:
PICKERING: Our Board felt that nothing could have been done to relieve the initial attack. Subsequent attacks took place beginning about midnight but died out within an hour and I think within those time frames, nothing could have been done. [Fox News, Your World, 5/7/13]
MYTH: A Special Forces Team Training In Croatia Could Have Rescued Embassy Workers
Special Report Hyped Anonymous Source's Claim That Force Training In Croatia Could Have Rescued Workers. Fox News' Special Report aired an interview between Fox correspondent Adam Housley and an anonymous source who claimed that special operations forces training in Croatia at the time could have prevented further loss of life in Benghazi:
HOUSLEY: The C-110 is a commanders and extremists force. In Layman's terms, a 40 man special operations force capable of rapid response and deployment, specifically, trained for incidents like the attack in Benghazi. That night, they were training in Croatia just three and a half hours away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had the ability to load out, get on birds, and fly there at a minimum stage. C-110 had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in four to six hours from their European theater to react.
HOUSLEY: They would have been there before the second attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would have been there before the second attack. They would have been there at a minimum to provide a quick reaction force that could facilitate their exfill out of the problem situation. Nobody knew how it was going to develop. And you hear a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of advisors say hey, we wouldn't have sent them there because, you know, the security was unknown situation. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 4/29/13 via Media Matters]
FACT: Croatian Force Could Not Have Arrived Until After The Attack Was Over
Accountability Review Board: “There Simply Was Not Enough Time” For “Military Assets To Have Made A Difference.” The Accountability Review Board, an independent group tasked with investigating the attacks, found that the “interagency response was timely and appropriate” but that there was not enough time for “armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference”:
The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference. Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks and continued through the night. The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans. [Accountability Review Board, accessed 5/7/13]
Fox Military Analyst Keane: CIA Base Was Evacuated Before Special Operations Force Could Reach Them. On Fox & Friends, Fox News military analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane responded to guest host Eric Bolling's claim that the Obama administration “did not call on the only response team that may have been able to intervene during the attack” by pointing out that “the CIA base was evacuated prior to their arrival at Sigonella, so they were never employed”:
KEANE: Here's what did happen. The national security apparatus, at the request of General Hamm, who's the commander of AFRICOM -- and he's had responsibility from a security aspect to respond to this crisis -- our national mission response force, our most classified force on the highest state of readiness, was alerted and moved from the United States to Sigonella [Naval Air Station in Italy], and they bring with them their own aircraft, their own helicopters and C-17s. Another classified special operations force was moved out of Central Europe to Sigonella as well. The fact of the matter was the CIA base was evacuated prior to their arrival at Sigonella, so they were never employed. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/2/12 via Media Matters]
MYTH: Clinton Never Spoke To Obama On Night Of The Attacks
Ingraham: “We Know That The Secretary Of State Had Not A Single Conversation With The Commander In Chief.” During an interview with Republican Congressman Peter King on her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed "[w]e know that the Secretary of State had not a single conversation with the Commander in Chief. Not one during this attack":
INGRAHAM: We know that the Secretary of State had not a single conversation with the Commander in Chief. Not one during this attack. Not one conversation? That just seems bizarre to me. I mean that's just one point, but that's a pretty darn good question. Why?
KING: Absolutely, it's an excellent question, and to me it's one that, it's unfortunate that it even has to be asked. I mean you'd think they would have been on the phone continually.
INGRAHAM: My God. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 5/7/13]
FACT: Clinton Testified She And Obama Communicated The Evening Of The Attacks
Clinton: “I Spoke With President Obama Later In The Evening To ... Bring Him Up To Date, To Hear His Perspective.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's January 23 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Benghazi attacks made it clear that she was continuously communicating with administration officials and the intelligence community during the evening of the attacks, including at least one conversation with the president:
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. That was under assault by a group of protesters.
We were assessing the security of our embassy, which is, as those of you have been there, certainly well-defensed. But there were crowds that were intent upon trying to scale the wall and, we were in close communication with our team in Cairo.
I was notified of the attack shortly after 4:00 p.m. Over the following hours, we were in continuous meetings and conversations, both within the department, with our team in Tripoli, with the inner agency, 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 charger 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. [CNN.com, 1/23/13, emphasis added]
MYTH: CIA Never Linked Benghazi Attack To Anti-Islam Video
Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes: “There Is No Mention Of Any 'Video' In Any Of The Many Drafts” Of CIA Talking Points. In a post on the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes claimed that the CIA talking points about the Benghazi attack made no reference to an anti-Islam YouTube video which was mentioned as a possible cause for the attacks by members of the Obama administration:
More troubling was the YouTube video. [Ambassador Susan] Rice would spend much time on the Sunday talk shows pointing to this video as the trigger of the chaos in Benghazi. “What sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the Internet. It was a reaction to a video that had nothing to do with the United States.” There is no mention of any “video” in any of the many drafts of the talking points. [The Weekly Standard, 5/13/13]
Fox's Chris Wallace: Reaction To The Anti-Islam Video “Had Never Been In Any Of The Talking Points.” On the May 5 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace cited Hayes' Weekly Standard article to claim “U.N. Ambassador Rice came on this show and four other Sunday shows, never mentioned the al Qaeda extremists, which had been scrubbed from the -- from the talking points, but did mention a reaction to the anti-Islam video which had never been in any of the talking points.” [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 5/5/13 via Media Matters]
FACT: Intelligence Community Believed Link Existed At The Time
CIA Talking Points Linked Attack To Protests In Cairo. The first bullet point from what The Weekly Standard described as “Version 1” of the CIA talking points says that “based on currently available information,” the attacks were “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” The final version of the document made the same link:
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 and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. [The Weekly Standard, 5/13/13 via Media Matters]
Cairo Protests Cited By CIA Talking Points Were Sparked By The Anti-Islam Video. The “protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” mentioned in both versions of the CIA talking points were part of a global reaction to the anti-Islam video. A September 14 New York Times article reported “Anti-American rage that began this week over a video insult to Islam spread to nearly 20 countries across the Middle East and beyond on Friday, with violent and sometimes deadly protests.” The article went on to note that protesters “had penetrated the perimeters of the American Embassies in the Tunisian and Sudanese capitals, and said that 65 embassies or consulates around the world had issued emergency messages about threats of violence.” [The New York Times, 9/14/12]