By Charles Krauthammer
WASHINGTON — Note to GOP re Benghazi: Stop calling it Watergate, Iran-contra, bigger than both, etc. First, it might well be, but we don’t know. History will judge. Second, over-hyping will only diminish the importance of the scandal if it doesn’t meet presidency-breaking standards. Third, focusing on the political effects simply plays into the hands of Democrats desperately claiming that this is nothing but partisan politics.
Let the facts speak for themselves. They are damning enough. Let Gregory Hicks, the honorable, apolitical second-in-command that night in Libya, movingly and grippingly demolish the president’s Benghazi mantra that “what I have always tried to do is just get all the facts” and “every piece of information that we got, as we got it, we laid it out for the American people.”
On the contrary. Just hours into the Benghazi assault, Hicks reported, by phone to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself, on the attack with absolutely no mention of any demonstration or video, later to become the essence of the Susan Rice talking points that left him “stunned” and “embarrassed.”
But Hicks is then ordered not to meet with an investigative congressional delegation. And when he speaks with them nonetheless, he gets a furious call from Clinton’s top aide for not having a State Department lawyer (and informant) present. His questions about the Rice testimony are met with a stone-cold response, sending the message — don’t go there. He then finds himself demoted.
Get the facts and get them out? It wasn’t just Hicks. Within 24 hours, the CIA station chief in Libya cabled that it was a terrorist attack and not a spontaneous mob. On Day Two, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Near East wrote an email saying the attack was carried out by an al-Qaida affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia.
What were the American people fed? Four days and 12 drafts later, a fiction about a demonstration that never was, provoked by a video that no one saw (Hicks: “a non-event in Libya”), about a movie that was never made.
The original CIA draft included four paragraphs on the involvement of al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists and on the dangerous security situation in Benghazi. These paragraphs were stricken after strenuous State Department objections mediated by the White House. All that was left was the fable of the spontaneous demonstration.
That’s not an accretion of truth. That’s a subtraction of truth.
And why? Let the deputy national security adviser’s email to the parties explain: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities” — fancy bureaucratese for “interests of the government agencies involved.” (He then added — “particularly the investigation.” But the FBI, which was conducting the investigation, had no significant objections. That excuse was simply bogus.)
Note that he didn’t say the talking points should reflect the truth — only the political interests, the required political cover, of all involved. And the overriding political interest was the need to protect the president’s campaign claim, his main foreign policy plank, that al-Qaeda was vanquished and the tide of war receding.
But then things got worse — the cover-up needed its own cover-up. On Nov. 28, press secretary Jay Carney told the media that State and the White House edited nothing but a single trivial word. When the email trail later revealed this to be false, Carney doubled down. Last Friday, he repeated that the CIA itself made the edits after the normal input from various agencies.
That was a bridge too far for even the heretofore supine mainstream media. The CIA may have typed the final edits. But the orders came from on high. You cannot tell a room full of journalists that when your editor tells you to strike four paragraphs from your text — and you do — there were no edits because you are the one who turned in the final copy.
The Clintonian wordplay doesn’t stop with Benghazi. Four days after the IRS announced that it discriminated against conservative organizations, Carney said repeatedly in his daily briefing that, if true, the president would be outraged.
If? By then, the IRS had not only admitted the grievous misconduct but apologized for it — and the president was speaking in the conditional.
This could be the first case in presidential history of subjunctive outrage. (It turned into ostensibly real outrage upon later release of the Inspector General report.) Add that to the conditional truths — ever changing, ever fading — of Benghazi, and you have a major credibility crisis.
Note to the White House: Try the truth. It’s easier to memorize.
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.