Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill began to get at the reason I’ve long suspected that the administration has been less than forthcoming with us on the matter of Benghazi: it appears that the president just wasn’t that involved as the crisis unfolded.
This was an attack that took the lives of four Americans, including the first ambassador slain on the job since 1979, that was detrimental to American prestige in the world, and the president appears to have had better things to do. The Weekly Standard reports:
Panetta said, though he did meet with Obama at a 5 o'clock prescheduled gathering, the president left operational details, including knowledge of what resources were available to help the Americans under siege, "up to us."
In fact, Panetta says that the night of 9/11, he did not communicate with a single person at the White House. The attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Obama did not call or communicate in anyway with the defense secretary that night. There were no calls about what was going on in Benghazi. He never called to check-in.
The 5 o'clock meeting was a pre-scheduled 30-minute session, where, according to Panetta's recollection, they spent about 20 minutes talking a lot about the American embassy that was surrounded in Egypt and the situation that was just unfolding in Benghazi.
If you’ve wondered why there was no Osama-kill-night-style photo of an involved president surrounded by tense advisers, now you know. As the crisis evolved, as American lives were at stake, the president appears to have been AWOL. This is the heart of the Benghazi scandal, and I daresay the main reason the White House has not been eager to talk about it.
The American Thinker printed some of the testimony, and it's shocking:
Ayotte: Did he ever call you that night to say, "How are things going? What's going on?"
Panetta: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador — his life had been lost, we were aware that that information went to the White House.
Ayotte: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
Ayotte: No one else called you to say, "How are things going?"
Panetta also said yesterday that he did not speak a single time to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the seven-hour crisis. And this:
There have been several depressing revelations at today’s Armed Services Committee hearings about the September 11 Benghazi attacks. In August, Ambassador Stevens cabled the State Department to explain that the Benghazi consulate would be unable to withstand a coordinated assault. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has stated that she was unaware of the cable, an assertion General Dempsey called “surprising.”
An angry Senator John McCain insisted during the testimony that more could have been done to help the Americans fighting for their lives. Yes, the build-up to Benghazi, including Ambassador Stevens’ apparently overlooked warnings, is part of the scandal. But the real scandal took place that night in Washington, and I have always suspected that malfeasance that night is what led to the administration’s attempt (successful at this point) to dismiss the scandal.
Just how shocking was the president’s apparent aloofness that night?
The Standard continues:
As Bill Kristol wrote in the month after the attack, "Panetta's position is untenable: The Defense Department doesn't get to unilaterally decide whether it's too risky or not to try to rescue CIA operators, or to violate another country's air space. In any case, it’s inconceivable Panetta didn't raise the question of what to do when he met with the national security adviser and the president at 5 p.m. on the evening of September 11 for an hour. And it's beyond inconceivable he didn't then stay in touch with the White House after he returned to the Pentagon."
Now we know that the White House and Defense were not in touch. This is a photo-op presidency but there doesn’t appear to be a photo of that night that would be helpful to the White House.
It should also be noted that the Watergate scandal came out piecemeal through Capitol Hill testimonies. But there was a difference: the media was willing–nay, avid–to pursue that scandal.