Benghazi Scandalmongering Takes a Hit Today

| Fri Nov. 16, 2012 3:23 PM EST

David Petraeus, late of the CIA, testified today before the Senate. Just by doing this, he batted down one of the dumber conspiracy theories surrounding Benghazi, namely that the expose of his affair with Paula Broadwell—or the coverup of his affair prior to the election, depending on which account you read—was somehow designed to prevent him from testifying before Congress. As it turns out, Congress can subpoena anyone it wants, so this was moronic from the start. And in the event, Petraeus was happy to testify voluntarily and no one tried to stop him.

So now let's move on to conspiracy theory #2: The Obama administration knew what really happened in Benghazi, but sent Susan Rice out to the Sunday talk shows to lie about it. How did that turn out?

Lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA's draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn't sure which federal agency took out the reference.

Democrats said Petraeus made it clear the change was not made for political reasons during President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. "The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "He completely debunked that idea."

....Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb but those names were replaced with the word "extremist" in the final draft....Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Petraeus explained that the CIA's draft points were sent to other intelligence agencies and to some federal agencies for review. Udall said Petraeus told them the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it. "The assessment that was publicly shared in unclassified talking points went through a process of editing," Udall said. "The extremist description was put in because in an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved."

....Schiff said Petraeus said Rice's comments in the television interviews "reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly."

So that's where we are. The interagency process removed the word "terrorist" and, for security reasons, replaced "Ansar al-Shariah" with "extremists." There was no political pressure to do this, and everyone signed off on the final draft. So that's what Susan Rice got: a brief set of talking points that said there had been protests in Benghazi inspired by those in Cairo, which had subsequently evolved into an assault on the consulate by "extremists." And that's what she said on TV.

The part about the protests turned out to be wrong. And Ansar al-Shariah was eventually firmly identified. But on September 15, four days after the attacks, this was what the intelligence community believed.

If that's your scandal, you have a pretty low bar for scandals.

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