On Benghazi, it seems, what you see depends on where you sit.
The controversy over the government’s handling of the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, yielded two starkly divergent interpretations from Democrats and Republicans on Sunday.
Democrats charged Republicans with making hay out of tragedy to tar President Obama’s administration with an unfair taint of scandal and put a chink in the armor of potential 2016 juggernaut Hillary Clinton.
Republicans, for their part, fired right back, accusing Democrats and the State Department of orchestrating a “cover up” to protect the president and former Secretary of State Clinton from political fallout.
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Denouncing the removal of any reference to “terrorism” or “al-Qaeda” from the administration talking points used to brief the public after the attack, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on ABC’s “This Week”, “I would call it a coverup in the extent that there was a willful removal of information.”
McCain argued that administration officials, at the time, were trying to put a rosy spin on the attack because they were “in the midst of a presidential campaign.”
But now that the revisions made to the talking points have been publicized, McCain said, the administration is deceitfully attempting to erase its fingerprints.
“For the president’s spokesman to say, well there was only words, or technical changes made in those emails, is a flat-out untruth,” McCain said, calling for a joint select congressional committee to ferret out the real story.
And although “we don’t know for sure” whether Hillary Clinton was personally involved in revising the talking points, McCain added, “she had to have been in the loop in some way.”
“Clearly, politics was at play here,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I believe that because we were in the midst of the final weeks of a very contentious presidential re-election campaign, that one of the themes of this administration was that Libya was a success, that the military invention had produced a stable pro-United States country that was moving toward Democracy and that al Qaeda was on the run,” she explained. “And what happened in Benghazi proved that neither of those narratives was accurate.”
On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., expressed surprise that the internal State Department review “did not probe Secretary Clinton in detail because obviously she was the decision maker at the State Department.”
Asked directly whether she thought Clinton or her advisers were involved in a coverup, Ayotte would only say that “serious questions” have been raised “about individuals within her chain of command with respect to the talking points and what happened afterward.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., similarly wondered on NBC’s “Meet the Press” how the talking points could change “12 times from what seems to be relatively right to what seems to be completely wrong.” He accused White House press secretary Jay Carney of saying “a lot of things that aren’t believable” in attempting to answer that question.
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Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said on ABC that the talking points’ revision was more a turf-battle than a cover up: “What was going on was not so much the politics of electioneering, but the institutional sort of positioning.”
And when the president labeled the attacks an “act of terror” the day after the incident, Reed added, “the notion that we’re somehow trying to disguise this and make it something else, I think, falls away very quickly.”
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While conceding that the talking points “were wrong” and that security at the diplomatic facility was “inadequate,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, said on NBC that nobody should assume “there was malevolence on the part of the president, on the part of the secretary of state or anyone else.”
“When Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing” on Benghazi, Feinstein argued, critics may only be trying to “discredit the secretary of state who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president.”
“So I understand Republicans had a grievance because this happened a month before the election,” she said. “And every effort has been made to turn it into something that’s diabolical. I don’t see that.”
Echoing Feinstein, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said on CBS that Benghazi “was a tragedy…but, unfortunately, this has been caught up in the 2016 presidential campaign, this effort to go after Hillary Clinton. The reason she wasn’t interviewed [by the internal review board] was she didn’t have any direct line responsibility for the decisions that were made.”
Republicans “want to bring her in because they think it’s a good political show,” Durbin said, “and I think that’s unfortunate.”