The news media are continuing to try to protect the Obama administration from a rapidly growing scandal. A November 13th article in The Washington Post by Scott Wilson argued that Obama “has been untouched by the unfolding investigation involving former CIA director David Petraeus,” a view that belongs on the opinion page under the heading, “wishful thinking,” not on the news pages.
The stunning news from November 9th that CIA Director David Petraeus had resigned over an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a former Army intelligence officer and a former lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, has become the source of numerous theories and psychological questioning of what makes powerful people tick. But it is actually proving to be a second shot at what should have been treated as a major Obama administration scandal prior to the November 6th election, the situation surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 this year, as I argued in a column last week.
Why, in light of two previous attacks this year on our consulate in Benghazi, did we keep it open, and not provide the added security that Ambassador Chris Stevens pleaded for? Why, knowing that he was on an al-Qaeda hit list, was our consulate not better protected, especially in light of a secret August 16th cable he sent to Hillary Clinton’s office at the State Department pointing out that there were “approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi?” Why did the administration for weeks try to argue that this was the result of a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand, which was, as Susan Rice called it, a copy-cat demonstration of the one earlier in the day in Egypt, supposedly over a little seen anti-Muslim video trailer made in the U.S.?
The bar for what is considered a scandal was cited in an Atlantic Wire article last year, as being when the word “scandal” is on the front page of The Washington Post. In the case of Obama, according to this definition, even Operation Fast & Furious and Solyndra didn’t qualify as scandals.
The Post’s Scott Wilson wrote that the Petraeus “scandal hinges on a personal relationship beyond the White House and has not implicated the president or his closest advisers.” That is where Wilson, the Post and most of the media have missed the big picture.
The Post reported on the front page on November 13th that Petraeus had planned to continue in his job as CIA director if his affair with Broadwell did not go public, and he was apparently led to believe it would not go public.
Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for the Post, in his role as a Fox News analyst, saw that information as being very revealing: “It meant that he understood that the FBI obviously knew what was going on…and that he understood that his job, his reputation, his legacy, his whole celebrated life was in the hands of the administration, and he expected they would protect him by keeping it quiet.”
Krauthammer continued: “And that brings us to the ultimate issue, and that is his testimony on September 13. That’s the thing that connects the two scandals, and that’s the only thing that makes the sex scandal relevant. Otherwise it would be an exercise in sensationalism and voyeurism and nothing else. The reason it’s important is here’s a man who knows the administration holds his fate in its hands, and he gives testimony completely at variance with what the Secretary of Defense had said the day before, at variance with what he’d heard from his station chief in Tripoli, and with everything that we had heard. Was he influenced by the fact that he knew his fate was held by people within the administration at that time?”
Now that the Petraeus adultery scandal has emerged, it is bringing all these issues to the forefront, with an emboldened Republican Party that doesn’t believe the President when he says he knew nothing about the Petraeus affair until the day after the election. It’s not just Republicans, as many in the media are just as incredulous. Ron Kessler, for example, a former reporter for The Washington Post, now with Newsmax, wrote the day following Petraeus’s resignation, “FBI agents on the case expected that Petraeus would be asked to resign immediately rather than risk the possibility that he could be blackmailed to give intelligence secrets to foreign intelligence agencies or criminals. In addition, his pursuit of the woman could have distracted him as the CIA was giving Congress reports on the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11.”
Kessler has written several books on the FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service, and is known to have excellent sources inside the FBI. He added that “FBI agents on the case were aware that such a decision had been made to hold off on forcing him out until after the election and were outraged.”
It is just not believable that Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the affair and the investigation in late summer, and the FBI knew about it at least since May, yet the President was kept in the dark that his CIA director was under investigation. If that is what happened, then heads should roll for incompetence, and leaving the head of the CIA in a vulnerable position while the President of the United States was unaware.
Holder finally offered an explanation publicly on November 15th. He said the Justice Department does “not share outside the Justice Department, outside the FBI, the facts of ongoing investigations.” He said he “made the determination as we were going through that there was not a threat to national security.” As the Post reported, “Because of that conclusion there was no reason to advise officials outside the department before the investigation was complete.”
Apparently he felt it was finally complete enough to go to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. on late afternoon of Election Day. Clapper then told the President the following day. But then how is it that it was only this week, on November 12th, that the FBI went to Ms. Broadwell’s home to search her computer for classified materials? It is those sorts of questions that make it implausible that an investigation to figure out if this posed a national security threat would not have been brought to the attention of the President.
Today, Petraeus went before the House and Senate Intelligence committees to clarify how the message of what the administration knew and when they knew it became so tangled. The issue was attempting to square what he was said to have told Congress back on September 13th with what is now known to be the case. Back then, it was reported that Petraeus said the attack on the consulate resulted from a demonstration, akin to a “flashmob,” sparked by the anti-Islam video, and not a planned terrorist act.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that Petraeus claimed that he had said early on that the attack on the consulate was a result of terrorism. But King seemed puzzled, saying that he remembered Petraeus playing down the role of an al-Qaeda affiliate during his September 13th testimony.
According to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) of the House Intelligence Committee, who attended Petraeus’s September 13 appearance and today’s, the initial talking points that the CIA released went through an editing process before being given to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who addressed the media on the Sunday following the attack. Heck said they didn’t know for sure who edited the talking points, but President Obama said at his press conference on Wednesday that Rice “made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
In other words, President Obama was taking the credit for whatever “presentation” Rice made during her talk show appearances. Rep. Heck told Fox News, “The initial talking points, which were put together in an unclassified format at the request of the House Intelligence Committee initially did state that al-Qaeda affiliated groups were involved, however, we understand that by the time it went through its editing process after it left Langley (CIA), that reference was taken out.” He added that Petraeus made clear and emphasized this morning that “the initial intelligence reporting which stated that the incident grew out of a spontaneous demonstration or protest was proven to be false. There was no protest outside the gates prior to the attack starting. And that became apparent after the interviews of individuals that were at the compound as well as after being able to view the surveillance videotape of the embassy outpost.”
Was Petraeus changing his story and no longer parroting the White House’s line? That remained unclear, but it certainly appears that he changed his tune. Another oddity was the timing of an announcement by the CIA on Thursday, the day before Petraeus would be talking to the committees for the first time since his resignation, that the CIA inspector general would be conducting an investigation into his conduct. Another warning to toe the party line?
On that same day, Andrea Mitchell raised the question of Petraeus’s responsibility in an interview with Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. “What is David Petraeus’s responsibility for this?” asked Mitchell. “There is some suggestion that General Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was already concerned that the CIA was putting out its defense without checking with other agencies for the way Benghazi was handled. And also that the White House is not happy with the CIA for giving talking points to Susan Rice that got her into this political difficulty on the Sunday morning talk shows. Do you think the agency should bear some responsibility or is this scapegoating after the fact?” Even Sen. Conrad was amused by Mitchell’s spin.
It remains to be seen how this plays out. Republicans are calling for a Watergate-type select committee, meaning that instead of Armed Services, Intelligence and Homeland Security each holding separate hearings, there would be one committee with members from each of those committees represented. Also, the lead would come from the House, rather than the Senate, which would leave the Republicans in charge to determine the witnesses and schedule, rather than having Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once again running interference for the Obama White House.
This is not what President Obama had in mind for his second term in office.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.