Benghazi continues to haunt the Obama Administration.
As demonstrated yesterday, Victoria Nuland, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and former State Department spokesman, is the most recent object of the distrust and anger felt by Senators over the attack on the U.S. consulate on September 11, 2012, and its aftermath.
At yesterday’s confirmation hearing, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Nuland on her role and that of her former boss, Hillary Clinton, in rewriting and toning down the Administration’s talking points on Benghazi. Nuland’s denials yesterday plainly flew in the face of evidence of political State Department tampering with the talking points given to then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice (now National Security Advisor) before Rice’s Sunday talk show appearances on September 16.
E-mails released by the Obama Administration itself showed that it was the State Department that had the most reservations about the initial talking points on the attack produced by the CIA.
State Department spokesman Nuland did not like the draft—nor did her “building leadership,” as she said in an e-mail on September 14. Nuland’s interventions prompted the CIA to remove just about every bit of substance in the talking points, including any specific reference to terrorist groups involved and the deteriorating threat environment in Benghazi. Wrote Nuland in an e-mail:
Why do we want Hill to start fingering Ansar Al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have the investigation results…and the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that?… Concerned.
Despite these very specific objections to the CIA draft back in September, Nuland yesterday told Senators that she did not read any intelligence reporting that week because “it was difficult to keep one brain for the public and one brain privately” and that she merely “was the conveyor of agreed policy.”
Exactly who agreed on this policy? It is not clear, as Nuland also said yesterday that she had not discussed the talking points with Clinton or senior State Department staff. Back in September, she stated that her “building leadership” had problems with the talking points. Well, which is it?
No one doubts Nuland’s extensive qualifications for handling the European portfolio, but public servants should also have credibility with Congress and the American public. Her performance yesterday did not inspire trust.