Washington Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson (prompted, undoubtedly, by Team Obama) find that David Petraeus is to blame for the trouble in which the administration finds itself over the Benghazi talking points. It’s not exactly a case of “blame the dead guy” — more like blame the unfaithful guy, even if he is an American hero.
In the Post’s telling, Petraeus drafted talking points that exceeded the scope of what the House Intelligence Committee asked for. Thus, the talking points had to be changed, and that led to Benghazigate.
Team Obama’s defense has thus come full circle. As “Totus Porcus” at Ricochet notes, originally David Petraeus was to blame for the administration’s misstatements about Benghazi because the administration relied on information the intelligence community provided. Now that this story has fallen apart — Susan Rice and company didn’t use what Petraeus provided — Petraeus is to blame for not writing the kind of talking points he was asked to.
But this fallback excuse fares little better than its predecessor. According to “a senior White House official,” House Intelligence Committee members were looking for the CIA to produce “the lowest common denominator” in its talking points — whatever that means. But from all that appears, this official wasn’t at the meeting at which the request for an account was made to Petraeus.
The Post also reports that the request, made by Ranking Member “Dutch” Ruppersberger, was for a “minimalist” account. But the Post doesn’t say that Ruppersberger used this word; nor, again, does it explain what it might mean in practice.
The CIA talking points Petraeus signed off on were not detailed. They provided the CIA’s assessment that the attack was inspired by events in Cairo and that the “crowd” was a mix of various elements but included “Islamist extremists with ties to al Qaeda.” The talking points also mention initial press reporting that linked the attacks to Ansar al-Sharia, but reaches no firm conclusion as to its involvement.
It’s difficult to see how providing this basic information, along with the caveat that the assessment might change as additional information becomes available, went beyond the scope of Ruppersberger’s request.
The Post/Team Obama piece objects to the reference to Ansar al-Sharia on the grounds that this was classified information. It also objects to the CIA including a line about how it had warned of the possibility of attacks. But both bits of information were true and relevant. And I don’t see that classified information was revealed by telling House members that newspapers reported a link between Ansar al-Sharia and the attacks.
Moreover, the flak Susan Rice and others have taken doesn’t stem solely, or even mainly, from the subsequent deletion of references to Ansar al-Sharia and prior warnings. The White House and the State Department also caused the removal of references to Islamist extremists with ties to al Qaeda. And they subsequently went beyond the talking points to emphasize a video that the CIA did not mention in any version of the talking points.
These actions produced the main criticism the White House faces. Thus, under no account can the White House validly blame its woes on David Petreaus.
One more piece of shameless shilling by DeYoung and Wilson deserves mention. They say that the Obama White House was “the only government entity that did not object to the detailed talking points produced with Petraeus’s input.” But, as “Totus Porcus,” reminds us, emails show that the White House (1) had previously sought to control the narrative by forbidding CIA from making any assessment of who was responsible for the attack, (2) was concerned about the “messaging ramifications” of the talking points being prepared for House Intelligence Committee members to use with media, and (3) backed the State Department in gutting the drafts.
Team Obama’s attempts to shift blame to David Petraeus aren’t the worst part of the Benghazi scandal. Indeed, they run well behind (1) the administration’s failure to heed warnings to beef up security at our facilities in Libya; (2) the fact that Obama apparently took a powder on the night of the crisis; (3) the subsequent cover-up, including the scrubbing of the talking points and the invention of the video as the motive for the attacks, (4) the subsequent mistreatment of whistleblowers, and (5) the failure of the administration so far to move against individuals it knows participated in attacking our facilities.
Nonetheless, it’s sad, but not surprising, to see Team Obama engage in an unfair and cowardly attack on a distinguished, but wounded, former public servant. And it’s sad, but not surprising, to see the Washington Post wield the knife for Obama.