The Administration put forward a senior State Dept. official to pre-empt the House hearing today on the deaths in Benghazi during the 9/11 attack on the consulate there. The latest story leaves the previous Administration spin a bit wobbly:
After declining for weeks to provide details about the assault on Sept. 11, the State Department on Tuesday night arranged with little notice a conference call in which a spokesman gave new details on what happened.
The account provided by a State Department official, whom the agency declined to identify, differed from the initial Obama administration reports in some important respects. Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, had said that the attack on the consulate began with an angry protest about an anti-Islamic film that was “hijacked” by extremists.
But in the new account provided by the State Department made no mention of a protest. In this account, Mr. Stevens met with a Turkish diplomat during the day of the attack and then escorted him to the main gate of the consulate around 8:30 p.m. At that time, there were no demonstrations and the situation appeared calm.
Little more than hour later, there was gunfire and explosions. American agents, watching the compound through cameras, saw a large group of armed men moving into the Benghazi compound. The barracks for a local militia that was protecting the compound was set on fire, and the attack began to unfold.
Ms. Rice's various statements to the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16 are gathered here. One sample, from Meet The Press:
“Putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of – of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.”
Apparently that was not their best current assessment, but in their quest to win every news cycle Team Obama has done serious damage to their November goal.
Yesterday the State Dept official helpfuly explained that we can't expect the Administration to expect the unexpected:
Seeking to defend the State Department against charges of lax security, the official suggested to reporters that it could not have been anticipated. “The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented. There had been no attack like that anywhere in Libya — Tripoli, Benghazi or elsewhere — in the time we had been there,” he said. “It would be very, very hard to find a precedent for an attack like that in recent diplomatic history.”
More of this "C'mon, it was hopeless" defense will be on offer at the hearing:
WASHINGTON — The State Department official responsible for security for American diplomats in Libya testified before a Congressional committee on Wednesday that the attack last month on the mission in Benghazi would have overpowered even a reinforced security detail.
“The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service,” said the official, Eric A. Nordstrom.
Oh, well then.
So, the key political question du jour - does this steaming mess end up sullying Hillary, or does it go all the way to Obama? One might not think that a State Dept. decision about consulate security would reach the White House, but on the other hand, we don't vote for Secretary of State. More importantly, we were being told by Jay Carney that the Man Who Killed Osama is on the case 24/7:
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, we are very vigilant around anniversaries like 9/11. The President is always briefed and brought up to speed on all the precautions being taken.
Hmm. I don't see how Team Obama can afford to throw Hillary under the bus between now and November and risk alienating her husband and the couple's many supporters. But the First Golfer can hardly take the blame for this himself. So where does the buck stop and where does the bus roll?
ERRATA: CBS News reported on Sept 20 that there was never a mob outside the consulate. That is after the Susan Rice appearances, which leaves us up in the air over what she knew and when she knew it.