The Benghazi Smokescreen

May 12, 2014

Republicans have now turned their full attention back to Benghazi conspiracy-mongering, creating yet another committee to investigate. This makes strategic sense for them: it energizes their base, and it keeps the media from focusing on substantive issues, where Republicans have little to say. Our job is to go on offenseto make “Benghazi” synonymous with Republicans’ empty agenda, their utter lack of interest in dealing with any of the challenges regular Americans face today.  Here’s how to make that stick. 

OUR AFFIRMATIVE CASE

We have three basic points to make on Benghazi: we must honor our fallen heroes, point out this has been investigated to death with nothing to show for it, and call Republicans out for what they are trying to hide.

1. Tragedy + Bravery
. Begin by expressing your respect and concern for the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us all safe.  Show you recognize what is serious about this incident.
This was a night of tragedy and valor. Four Americans gave their lives defending our country.

2. Exhaustively Investigated Already
. Point out that after all the investigations, there has been zero intentional wrongdoing found.  There is nothing new to be found here. All of their questions have been asked and answered:
Benghazi has been more thoroughly investigated than the entire Iraq war. We know more about that night than the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
After 5 investigations, 50 briefings and 25,000 pages of documents reviewed, not a single instance of any  wrongdoing has been found. (All the questions have been answered, repeatedly. Our Republican friends prefer to ignore the answers and ask all over again to keep this circus going.)
Republicans just keep asking the same questions and pretending not to hear the answers.

3. They Have Nothing Else to Offer
.  Expose their use of Benghazi as a smokescreen to hide their own lack of an agenda to address the challenges Americans face today. The goal here is not to get them to stop talking about Benghazi, but to make “Benghazi” synonymous with Republicans’ lack of concern for Americans’ real challenges.
After all this, Republicans still won’t let this go. Why? Because they have nothing else to talk about.
Realize, Republicans have no health care planno jobs plan, basically nothing to say about the real problems American families are facing.
Their official budget plan would take jobs away from 3 million Americans and health care away from 10 million more. If I was running on that platform, I’d talk about Benghazi as much as I could too.
There is no smoking gun, just more smokescreens.
KEY:  Connect with your audience |  Make your case | Show how your opponents differ

FIGHTING THROUGH THE WEEDS

Benghazi Birthers will attack with questions about various details to make themselves sound well-informed.  Below you will find strong, concise answers to their main accusations. Answer as crisply as you can, and then always return to the final point above to associate Benghazi with their empty agenda.Republican accusations fall into one of three buckets:

  • What happened before the attack = negligent/deliberate lack of readiness
  • What happened during the attack = deliberately not coming to the aid of Americans under attack
  • What happened after the attack = plotting to mislead the public for political purposes

BEFORE the attack: Republicans Cut Security Funding. If you get a question about events before the attack, honor the question, because it is a legitimate one. But also point out that GOP does not usually focus here, not just because all of the Pickering Commission’s recommendations have already been implemented, but also because Congressional Republicans cut $500 million in funding for diplomatic security before the attacks.

  • That is the important question. We must make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our men and women overseas safe.
  • For all their talk about Benghazi, Republicans don’t like to talk about this much, because before the attack, they cut security funding for our diplomats overseas (over Secretary Clinton’s strong objections).
  • The good news here is that the bi-partisan commission led by Admiral Pickering made extensive recommendations to prevent this from happening again, and they all have been implemented (by Secretary Clinton).

DURING the attack: Republicans Slander Our Men and Women in Uniform. Some Republicans have suggested a “stand down” order was given in Benghazi by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and that members of our military obeyed it and abandoned the Americans under attack. This is false, and anyone suggesting that our troops acted with anything but the utmost bravery that night should be made to own up to what they are suggesting and thoroughly shamed. No matter how obscure the suggestion or oblique the reference (“What was Obama doing that night? Did he and Hillary even talk?”), all of their questions about that night are meant to imply that not all that could have been done was done. If they go there, go after them hard. (If you have them on the ropes here, you can take your time getting back to the Benghazi=distraction point above.)

  • How dare you accuse our men and women in uniform, who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, of leaving their fellow Americans to die?
  • Rescue efforts did arrive that night, both from the CIA annex across town and from the base in Tripoli.  Beyond that, the suggestion that more could have been done but was not is a lie.  Lt. Col. GibsonSecretary Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey have all testified that this is a lie. The Senate Select Committee, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, and House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations have confirmed that it is a lie.
  • Our men and women in uniform have put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. Slandering them, questioning their bravery or their commitment to their fellow Americans, just to play your political games, is despicable.  You owe the men and women of our military an apology.

AFTER the attack: Take it Up with Republican CIA Director Petraeus. This is where Republicans focus most because it’s easiest to use irrelevant details to sow confusion. But at the end of the day, all of the documents have confirmed one thing: the administration said only what the CIA said they should say. So if Republicans have problems with the talking points, they should take it up with General Petraeus, who was the CIA Director at the time.  This will not answer every point they can make up (i.e. why did it take so long to turn over the Rhodes email?), but it will make clear there is nothing being covered up.

  • The administration said what the CIA told them to say — no more, no less. Every document we have seen has confirmed that.
  • So if you have a problem with the talking points, take it up with General David Petraeus, a Republican, who ran the CIA then.

That will get you through the most common attacks. For more responses to other Republican attacks, as well as other key background information, read on below.

Remember, answer concisely, then return to the point that Republicans are only talking about Benghazi as a smokescreen to distract from the fact that they have no plan to deal with the challenges our country faces.  We can’t  stop them from talking about Benghazi. But we can change what it means — not a Democratic scandal, but a desperate Republican attempt to distract Americans from their empty agenda.


OTHER ATTACKS AND RESPONSES

The New Committee
ATTACK: “The new select committee will investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served.
RESPONSE:

  • Everything has been asked and answered already. We’ve had 5 investigations50 briefings and 25,000 pages of documents and found no intentional wrongdoing at all.
  • We’ve had multiple national journalists humiliated by taking these made-up allegations seriously and even prominent conservatives have started saying this charade has gone too far.
  • This is political theater.  Benghazi’s all they got. They have no health care plan. They have no jobs plan. They have nothing to say about the real problems American families are facing. So they talk about Benghazi.

ATTACK: Select Committee Chair Trey Gowdy’s first question: “Why were we still in Benghazi? We were the last flag flying in Benghazi, and I would like to know why.
RESPONSE:

  • Our national security professionals looked at the prior security threats and recommended against abandoning Benghazi. Our people operate in a lot of dangerous places like Afghanistan and Yemen. The vast majority of the time, we get threat assessment right. But we can’t always get it right, and we can’t protect American interests overseas without accepting some risk.

Rhodes Email
ATTACK: “The Rhodes email, which served as preparation for Susan Rice’s Sunday show appearances, is proof that the administration tried to link the Benghazi attack to the video.
RESPONSE:

  • The Rhodes email said the protests across the Arab world were inspired by the video, which is true, and no one disputes it.
  • It also said that the best current information was that the Benghazi attack was inspired by the Cairo protests.  Again, that was just what the CIA told them to say.

ATTACK: “In his email, Ben Rhodes asked U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to emphasize on the Sunday shows that the attacks killing four Americans stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration and not terrorism.”
RESPONSE:

  • Once again, it just said what the CIA said to say. There is nothing at all new in the Rhodes email.

ATTACK: “The Rhodes email should have been turned over long ago.  This proves the White House has something to hide.
RESPONSE:

  • There is nothing new in it.  Once again, it just repeats what the CIA said to say.
  • FOIA requests are a giant undertaking and take forever. The earlier 2013 request also asked for emails from the State Department, not the White House.

ATTACK: “Jay Carney says that e-mail is not about Benghazi at all. But the only place the video comes up is Ben Rhodes’ e-mail.
RESPONSE:

  • Carney explained that the email wasn’t turned over before because it was focused on other global issues at the time, not Benghazi. He was right.
  • There were two references to Benghazi in 20 paragraphs. Neither contained anything new, both just repeated the talking points the CIA gave everyone.  What part of that can’t you understand?

Talking Points
ATTACK: “We have a major, major scandal. We have lies that are perpetuated by this White House. They were covering up the terrorist attack for political purposes.
RESPONSE:

  • There was no cover up. Obama called Benghazi an act of terror the very next day, and Susan Rice said that “extremists” “hijacked” protests in Benghazi with “heavier weapons.”

ATTACK: “The White House didn’t link the attacks in Benghazi to Al-Qaeda because they were trying to avoid revealing how weak the administration’s anti-terror efforts are. Libyan officials were told the attack was perpetrated by Ansar Al-Islam, then Susan Rice said it was just a protest gone bad.
RESPONSE:

  • Susan Rice said exactly what she was told to say by the CIA, which was trying to evaluate and respond to the situation.
  • General Petraeus explained that the administration refrained from making the link publicly in order to avoid tipping off enemy groups about intelligence efforts.
  • That night in Benghazi, there were extremists with heavy weapons there to attack, and people there for a protest about the internet video. At the time, the CIA was not sure who got there first. Exactly what difference does it make anyway?

ATTACK: “Mike Morell helped the administration politicize the talking points about Benghazi and is covering for them now.
RESPONSE:

  • Michael Morell is a decorated, 30-year veteran of the CIA, and a top Bush aide. He wanted keep the CIA from playing CYA at a time when four Americans just died. This edit wasn’t to keep the State from looking bad, it was to keep the CIA from looking bad, and petty—to preserve the integrity of the agency.

Secretary Clinton
ATTACK: “Clinton offered little support immediately after the incident and she didn’t even speak with the president that night.
RESPONSE:

  • At every step, Secretary Clinton followed the advice the security professionals presented to her. The only people in this story who rejected the advice of our security professionals were the Congressional Republicans who cut our diplomatic security budget.

ATTACK: “Benghazi disqualifies Hillary Clinton from the presidency in 2016. She failed to lead.
RESPONSE:

  • Secretary Clinton took responsibility for this tragedy. Remember, Ambassador Stevens was a friend of hers. She implemented every single recommendation that the bi-partisan Pickering Commission on the attack made.
  • Her only other involvement in this was beforehand, when she strongly objected to the Republican Congress cutting the diplomatic security budget. They cut it anyway, which left our people overseas needlessly exposed.

WORTH KNOWING

Rhodes Email

  • The Rhodes email mentioned Benghazi twice in 20 paragraphs — the rest was about the other protests, Egypt, and Iran. Ambassador Rice received both the CIA talking points about Benghazi and this Rhodes email about the multiple protests and other issues across the world. When the Rhodes email does mention Benghazi, the language just repeats the CIA talking points.
  • The Rhodes email opens by listing as a main goal “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The protests in that bullet point refer to the many protests (5 American embassies in 4 days) that were happening across the world at that time, not the attack in Benghazi.
  • The Rhodes email does not mention the video in the context of Benghazi. There was one question about Benghazi, and the prepared response did not mention the video. It said “currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.”
  • Here is the full quote from Ambassador Rice on that Sunday: “Our current best assessmentbased on the information that we have at present is that, in fact, what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated. We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people, came to the embassy to—or to the consulate, rather—to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then, as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that, as you know, in the wake of the revolution in Libya, are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.”

Protests

  • There were violent protests outside 5 American facilities across the Arab world in a 4-day span, and nearly 50 protests across the world that week. As the New York Times and others have reported, people at the Benghazi compound that night thought the unrest there was a protest over the movie. The protests are clearly relevant context.
  • David Gregory’s first question to Amb. Rice that morning was about the protests. The same was true for Chris Wallace. These protests were the focus of international concern and a very big deal.

Links to Al-Qaeda

  • The bipartisan Senate Select Committee report calls some of the perpetrating groups “Al-Qaeda affiliated.” The interpretation of what this means, predictably, has diverged alongpartisan lines. But many people have questioned just how closely the militants were linked to Al-Qaeda.

Politics and Benghazi

  • Multiple national journalists, including from ABC News and CBS News, have ended up humiliated after taking these made-up allegations seriously.
  • Even prominent conservatives like Rep. Buck McKeon and Charles Krauthammer have started saying this charade has gone too far (though Krauthammer recently got enthusiastic about it again).
  • Under President Bush, there were 13 attacks on our embassies that killed 88 people, 11 Americans. Needless to say, Republicans did not investigate endlessly or accuse our military of leaving their comrades behind. Neither did Democrats.