ANALYSIS: Two days before the election, CBS posted additional portions of a Sept. 12 “60 Minutes” interview where President Obama seems to contradict himself on the Benghazi attack. As the Benghazi investigation gets more attention and focus, CBS is once again adding to the Benghazi timeline.
In the interview, according to the latest portions, Obama would not say whether he thought the attack was terrorism. Yet he would later emphasize at a presidential debate that in the Rose Garden the same day, he had declared the attack an act of terror.
That moment was one of the most intense exchanges in the second presidential debate. Romney was on the offensive on what conservatives believed was a serious vulnerability of Obama — the handling of the Benghazi attack and what he called it from the beginning.
The town hall questioner asked, “Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?”
Obama did not provide a direct answer, but said: “When I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable, and I am ultimately responsible for what’s taking place there, because these are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, you know that I mean what I say.”
Romney pounced, saying, “There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration or actually whether it was a terrorist attack. And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people.”
On rebuttal, Obama seemed rehearsed, but indignant. “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror… And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.”
Governor Romney walked forward and started questioning …
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
OBAMA: Please proceed.
ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
ROMNEY: This — the administration — the administration — (applause) — indicated that this was a — a reaction to a — to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.
CROWLEY: They did.
ROMNEY: It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group and — and to suggest — am I incorrect in that regard? On Sunday the — your — your secretary or —
Obama — who had clearly won the moment (largely thanks to Candy Crowley) — clearly wanted to move on from that victorious moment — and quickly.
OBAMA: Candy —
ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador to the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and — and spoke about how this was a spontaneous reaction.
OBAMA: Candy, I’m — I’m happy to —
CROWLEY: President, let me — I —
OBAMA: I’m happy to have a longer conversation about foreign policy.
CROWLEY: I know you — absolutely. But I want — I want to move you on.
OBAMA: OK, I’m happy to do that too.
CROWLEY: And also, people can go to the transcripts and —
OBAMA:I just want to make sure that —
CROWLEY: — figure out what was said and when.
OBAMA:– you know, all these wonderful folks are going to have a chance to get some — their questions answered.
Now, we may know why. Soon after that debate exchange, CBS released a previously unseen clip of an interview “60 Minutes‘” Steve Kroft did with Obama on Sept. 12 — the day after the Benghazi attack.
The clip added to the previous sound that had been released and seemed to back up the president’s claim that he was referring to the Benghazi attack as a terrorist act in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12. Here’s what CBS put out Oct. 19, five weeks after the attack.
KROFT: But there are reports that they were very heavily armed with grenades, that doesn’t sound like your normal demonstration.
OBAMA: As I said, we’re still investigating exactly what happened, I don’t want to jump the gun on this. But your right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt. And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this. Who were looking to target Americans from the start. So we’re gonna make sure that our first priority is to get our folks out safe, make sure our embassies are secured around the world and then we are going to go after those folks who carried this out.”
After the second debate back and forth, this seemed to back up the president’s stance. The only problem? Kroft started his question with “but.”
I always thought, it seems that he’s following up on a question — I wonder if there was a question before that question?
This week, we got the CIA timeline of events in which they detail all of the response of the CIA and what they put up the chain of command in the minutes and hours after the attack began. Of all the details of the specific times the CIA contractors respond to the fight, I found this one most interesting:
“1:15 a.m.: CIA reinforcements arrive on a 45-minute flight from Tripoli in a plane they’ve hastily chartered. The Tripoli team includes four GRS security officers, a CIA case officer and two U.S. military personnel who are on loan to the agency. They don’t leave Benghazi airport until 4:30. The delay is caused by negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport, obtaining vehicles, and the need to frame a clear mission plan. The first idea is to go to a Benghazi hospital to recover Stevens, who they correctly suspect is already dead. But the hospital is surrounded by the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah militia that mounted the consulate attack.”
So the U.S. Ambassador to Libya is at the Benghazi hospital and suspected dead. The CIA contractors know that, but they can’t get there because the hospital is surrounded by the Al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al Shariah, the “militia that mounted the consulate attack.”
This goes up the chain communication at 1:15 a.m. on Sept. 12. The White House, the Situation Room, and all of those paying attention to intel channels know that the guys on the ground have determined the group that’s behind this. It’s the Al Qaeda-linked militia that are still fighting and have the hospital surrounded.
About 12 hours later — before heading to Las Vegas for a campaign event — Obama sits down for that “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft.
And Sunday night, 54 days after the attack and almost two weeks after putting out the first additional clip that appeared to back up the president after the second debate, CBS without fanfare posted the rest of the Benghazi question online — the question before the question.
Remember this is from a president who has been saying he was calling Benghazi a terrorist attack from the very first moment in the Rose Garden. Also, remember what he said in the debate and notice the new part — underlined in bold.
Click here to see the “60 Minutes” interview.
KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack, do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?
OBAMA: Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.
KROFT: It’s been described as a mob action, but there are reports that they were very heavily armed with grenades, that doesn’t sound like your normal demonstration.
OBAMA: As I said, we’re still investigating exactly what happened, I don’t want to jump the gun on this. But your right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt. And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this. Who were looking to target Americans from the start. So we’re gonna make sure that our first priority is to get our folks out safe, make sure our embassies are secured around the world and then we are going to go after those folks who carried this out.
KROFT: There have been reports, obviously this isn’t the first time…there have been attacks on the consulate before. There was an attack against the British ambassador. Do you…this occurred on Sept. 11. Can you tell me why the ambassador was in Benghazi yesterday? Was it to evaluate security at the consulate?
OBAMA: Well keep in mind Chris Stevens is somebody that was one of the first Americans on the ground when we were in the process of saving Benghazi and providing the opportunity for Libyans to create their own democracy. So this is somebody who had been courageous, had been on the ground, had helped to advise me and Secretary Clinton when we were taking our actions against Muammar Qaddafi. And is somebody who is very familiar with the train. He was doing the work that he does as a diplomat helping to shape our policies in the region at a time when things are still fairly fragile. But I think it’s important to note that we have a Libyan government in place that is fully cooperative, that sees the United States as a friend that recognizes we played an important role in liberating Libya and providing the Libyan people an opportunity to forge their own destiny. And in fact we had Libyans who helped protect our diplomats when they were under attack. But this is a country that is still rebuilding in the aftermath of Qaddafi. They don’t necessarily always have the same capabilities that countries with more established governments might have in helping to provide protection to our folks. But beyond that, what I want to do is make sure that we know exactly what happened, how it happened, who perpetrated this action, then we’ll act accordingly.”
These are two crucial answers in the big picture. Right after getting out of the Rose Garden, where, according to the second debate and other accounts he definitively called the attack terrorism, Obama is asked point blank about not calling it terrorism. He blinks and does not push back.
Understand that this interview is just hours after he gets out of the Rose Garden.
How after this exchange and the CIA explanation of what was being put up the chain in the intel channels does the Ambassador to the United Nations go on the Sunday shows and say what she says about a spontaneous demonstration sparked by that anti-Islam video? And how does the president deliver a speech to the United Nations 13 days later where he references that anti-Islam video six times when referring to the attack in Benghazi?
There are many questions, and here are a few more.
Why did CBS release a clip that appeared to back up Obama’s claim in the second debate on Oct. 19, a few days before the foreign policy debate, and not release the rest of that interview at the beginning?
Why on the Sunday before the election, almost six weeks after the attack, at 6 p.m. does an obscure online timeline posted on CBS.com contain the additional “60 Minutes” interview material from Sept. 12?
Why wasn’t it news after the president said what he said in the second debate, knowing what they had in that “60 Minutes” tape — why didn’t they use it then? And why is it taking Fox News to spur other media organizations to take the Benghazi story seriously?
Whatever your politics, there are a lot of loose ends here, a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of strange political maneuvers that don’t add up.
That’s what reporters should live for, but this time they’re not. We will.