With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recovering in New York City Presbyterian Hospital from a concussion and blood clot due to a fainting spell Dec. 16, the Senate Homeland Security Committee led by retiring 70-year-old Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) released a scathing report on Benghazi security. When the consulate was attacked Sept. 11 by yet-to-be named Libyan rebels killing 52-year-old Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans, White House officials put U.N. Amb. Susan Rice in the hot seat on Sunday morning talk shows. Rice was slammed by Republicans for saying the attacks were based on rioting due to a viral U.S.-made YouTube video defaming the Prophet Mohammed. Rice had to eat her words and withdraw her name for consideration to replace Clinton when she retires Jan. 20, 2013. Lieberman’s report ripped the State Department for doing too little.
While Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted Rice for giving a sanitized version of what the White House knew about Benghazi, Lieberman excused Clinton as too removed from the chain-of-command to be held accountable for the attack. McCain and Graham jumped all over Rice’s remarks, suggesting some kind of Watergate-like cover-up. While Clinton receives anticoagulant treatment for her blood clot, several mid-level State Department managers have already gotten the ax. Before her Dec. 16 fall, Clinton was supposed to enlighten Lieberman’s committee Dec. 20. Some GOP skeptics like Tea Party favorite Rep. Alan West (R-Fl.) said Hillary suffered from “Benghazi flu” to avoid testifying. Clinton’s anticoagulant treatment should silence any doubters. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Hillary would know who in the State Department hierarchy were most accountable.
Lieberman’s report raises questions about emerging al-Qaeda-like cells in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s May 1, 2011 death. “With Osama bin Laden dead and core al-Qaeda weakened, a new collection of violent Islamic extremist organizations and cells have emerged in the last two to three years,” said Lieberman, calling for better intel on radical groups. Lieberman’s report does not yet label the specific terror group responsible for the Benghazi attack. Saying the Libyan government was “incapable of performing its duty to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel,” Lieberman’s report pointed fingers at the State Department to pick up the security slack. Calling the State Department’s decision to leave the Benghazi consulate unprotected a “grievous mistake,” Lieberman stopped short of blaming Hillary. McCain and Graham slammed Obama and Clinton who had nothing to do with security at Benghazi.
Trying to answer who processed the intel report that Rice read on Sunday morning talk shows Sept. 15, Lieberman concluded that it was not the job of intel agencies to write for the White House or Congress. While Rice initially defended her statements on national TV, she later withdrew her consideration for Secretary of State Dec. 13, sparing the president any embarrassment. Rice actually withdrew to spare herself personal embarrassment as U.N. Ambassador. Whatever the intel report said, Rice knows that she’s accountable for her own words. GOP members in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee didn’t buy that Rice simply followed intel reports, when she knew, along with public media reports, that there was no rioting near the Benghazi consulate or CIA annex. McCain and Graham found out the hard way there’s no Watergate-like conspiracy here.
Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee proved that the story of who’s responsible for the Benghazi attacks keeps changing, excusing at least one part of Rice’s talking points. Had the 47-year-old Oxford graduate said that the views expressed were not necessarily her own, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relation +s Committee would have been less harsh. Even if the initial version indicated that groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or its affiliates participated in the attack, it’s not that far off from, ”there are indications that extremists participated.“ Homeland Security Director James Clapper promised to give the Senate a full accounting of the chronology involved in the talking points eventually spoken by Rice. Even when Hillary gets her turn before the Committee, she won’t shed any light on why the intel community deleted “al-Qaeda and its affiliates” from the memo.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.