Note: This story was first published Mary 14, 2015.
Two and a half years after the Benghazi terrorist attacks, ex-CIA official Mike Morell and the White House continue with their litany of evolving and often conflicting explanations as to what happened and what went wrong. Not only do their statements today contradict ones they made previously, but at times they also contradict one another’s accounts.
In an interview with Fox News‘ Brett Baier to promote his new book, Morell acknowledged what many documents and insiders have indicated from the start (but the White House and State Department vehemently denied): politics were in serious play when the administration mistakenly blamed a YouTube video rather than terrorists for the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the assaults.
One example is the series of internal “talking points” drafts circulated among administration officials. Documents belatedly produced to Congress revealed that Obama advisor Ben Rhodes advised officials to blame the video, in part, “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
“I think that is crossing the line between national security and politics,” Morell said to Baier in an interview this week.
Another contradiction came when Morell testified to the House Intelligence Committee on April 2, 2014. At the time, he was still defending the White House.
“To be very clear,” said Morell, “the White House did not make any substantive changes to the talking points.”
In written testimony submitted to the committee Morell also specifically denied that the National Security Staff, which is chaired by the President, made changes. At the time, he called it a “myth.”
“No one at the NSS suggested or requested a single substantive change. That is a simple fact, and calling it a myth doesn’t change the reality.”
However, former White House NSS official Tommy Vietor subsequently told Baier of Fox News that he made at least one substantive change and, perhaps, more.
The Benghazi attacks happened amid the heated 2012 presidential campaign in which President Obama had implied that terrorism was a declining issue and al Qaeda was “on the run.”
Shortly after the attacks, Morell told members of Congress that the FBI was to blame for talking points that removed mention of terrorism and pointed the finger at the YouTube video. The FBI denied it and Morell changed his story but did not, at the time, acknowledge his own role in the revisions. When documents surfaced revealing more information, he was called to testify to Congress and admitted that he had, in fact, made significant changes that he had not disclosed when asked.
White House spokesman Jay Carney and other administration officials repeatedly claimed that the White House had made no substantive changes in the talking points. That information was later proven false by the documents showing, among other revelations, the role of Obama advisor Rhodes.
After leaving the CIA, Morell was hired by a PR firm populated by Hillary Clinton loyalists and former Obama officials. He was then hired as a consultant for CBS News. He has stated that he never meant to mislead Congress or provide incorrect information.
Bill Harlow, Morell’s co-author on the book, “The Great War of Our Time” replies to the above article with the following:
“You cite Michael Morell’s previous testimony that mistakes made regarding Benghazi were not due to politics and contrast that with his statement aired by Fox News where he said that a statement in a White House document ‘is crossing the line between national security and politics.’
“But the first statement, made in testimony before Congress, on April 2, 2014, referred to talking points drafted by the CIA at the request of Congress. The second statement is about internal White House talking points which were released under FOIA on April 18, 2014 and which had never been shared with the CIA or Morell until they were publicly released. Morell makes clear in his book that he believes THOSE talking points did cross the line.
“As far as who changed what in the CIA-drafted talking points and why – Morell goes into that in great detail in his book. I would urge you and others to make your judgment from that rather than from snippets of edited interviews.”
(It is worth noting that Morell was repeatedly asked by members of Congress to provide details of the talking points and their drafts but, for reasons he may explain in his book, he did not at the time provide a full or accurate accounting and, in some instances, provided incorrect information.)