At last we have a Benghazi scandal that Democrats are willing to acknowledge — House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to form a select committee to investigate the administration’s handling of the 2012 terror attack in Libya.
This has been the occasion for outrage that Democrats haven’t been able to summon for any aspect of Benghazi to this point, including the lax security at the compound. The Democrats and their allies are in denial. They think the Republican notion of a scandal is a complete hoax. Yes, a mistake was made here or there, but otherwise, nothing to see here.
The deniers evidently believe:
— An administration should be able to make erroneous statements about a terror attack that killed a U.S. ambassador in the weeks before a presidential election and expect everyone to accept its good intentions afterward.
— An administration should be able to withhold a bombshell White House email from congressional investigators and expect everyone to greet its long-delayed release with a yawn.
— An administration should be able to send out its press secretary to abase himself with absurd denials of the obvious and expect everyone to consider its credibility solidly intact.
No opposition party would ever accept these propositions, and of course Republicans (and a few intrepid reporters and organizations) haven’t. We presumably would never have learned of the email from White House national- security official Ben Rhodes to then-ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice prior to her notorious Sunday show appearances if Benghazi “obsessives” at Judicial Watch hadn’t zealously pursued records through a lawsuit.
It has long been the contention of Rice’s defenders that she was merely tripped up by bad intelligence. It is true that the Central Intelligence Agency wrongly maintained initially that the Benghazi attack grew out of a protest. Yet, there wasn’t any doubt from the outset that it was a terrorist attack.
In his April testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell emphasized, “The critically important point is that the analysts considered this a terrorist attack from the very beginning. They were not slow coming to this judgment.”
But Rice took her cue from Rhodes, who didn’t mention terrorism. It was all about the video, and “people who harm Americans” and “challenges,” including “difficult challenges.”
The administration’s apologists claim that President Barack Obama immediately called Benghazi a terror attack in a statement in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12, the day after the assault. He did indeed refer to “acts of terror,” although vaguely. In an interview the same day with CBS, though, he was asked: Was Benghazi the result of a “mob action,” or was it something more serious? “I don’t want to jump the gun on this,” the president said.
Blaming the video allowed the administration to put the most anodyne possible interpretation on Benghazi, while staying in its ideological comfort zone. If the video had incited the attack, it meant that extremists both at home and overseas were to blame and that the administration could adopt a defensive posture about our country’s alleged Islamophobia.
Clearly, the White House considered the Rhodes email damaging, or it would have released it long ago. It then would have spared Jay Carney the exertions involved in maintaining that the email isn’t rightly considered a Benghazi email, even though it was part of Rice’s preparation to go on shows where she would be asked repeatedly about … Benghazi.
Not every scandal is Watergate, and it’s foolish for Republicans to invoke it here. The party also shouldn’t be fundraising over the deaths of four Americans. But the unearthing of the Rhodes email discredits the argument that everything to do with Benghazi is “old news.”
If there is nothing left to learn, then the White House and Democrats can cooperate with the select committee without fear and watch it hang itself. Instead, every indication is that they will stall, mock and disrupt. Because there’s nothing to see here.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org