It took more than a month -- and an intervening presidential election -- but it appears as though MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has finally joined the chorus of conservatives criticizing Candy Crowley for covering for President Obama’s false statements on Libya during the presidential debates.
Speaking on Monday’s Morning Joe, Scarborough strongly rebuked the Obama administration’s handling of the post-Benghazi coverage. [See video below page break. MP3 audio here.]
Scarborough started off the segment by ridiculing the idea that the White House couldn’t say the attack on our embassy was Al-Qaeda-related:
They're like, oh, you know, we couldn't say it was Al-Qaeda because that might expose some of our assets on the ground. Andrea Mitchell, the term Al-Qaeda, like, if there's a terror attack in the Middle East, and you say Al-Qaeda, that's going to expose some of our assets on the ground? That does not, as my professor said, Professor Pearson, that does not pass the straight-face test.
Scarborough followed this up by strongly criticizing the CNN reporter and presidential debate moderator for falsely claiming President Obama immediately classified the attack on Libyan Embassy as terrorism:
Andrea, what I don't understand is that Susan Rice said this five days in. The president -- remember, the president at the debate saying, you know, and Candy Crowley for some reason basically making up history on the run, said, well, the president did say this was a terrorist attack the day after, which he really didn't say that at all. So there's an inconsistency even there. In the debate, the president said, we said this the day after that it was an act of terror. No, no, he didn't. And five days later, Susan Rice is reading a supposedly Intel that says it wasn't a terror attack. I mean, there are -- there's confusion.
Colleague Andrea Mitchell used much softer language to excuse Susan Rice, instead placing the blame on the intelligence community:
I think the problem here is what this has exposed is the bureaucracy of the intelligence community. The fact that the intelligence community waters down what can be said in a declassified setting and that Susan Rice, I mean the criticism is that she took what they handed her and didn't challenge it, which her defenders, Dianne Feinstein on Meet The Press and others say is really really unfair.
Mitchell’s blame is misguided, as it was the White House, NOT the CIA which edited the post-Benghazi talking points memo which Susan Rice relied on when she went around blaming a YouTube video for the attack in Benghazi.
For once Scarborough didn’t go along with the usual MSNBC agenda of covering up or excusing White House failures.
It would have been nice to see more of this before the election, but better late than never, we suppose.
See relevant transcript below.
November 19, 2012
6:11 a.m. EDT
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: You mentioned Benghazi. Let's go to the developments now in the ongoing controversy over the administration's response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Members of Congress are now vowing to find out why the CIA's conclusion that terrorism was to blame for the attack was removed from U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's talking points. In the days following the deadly assault, Ambassador Rice said the administration believed the attack was a reaction to an anti-Islamic video. But, an associated press report says former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Friday that he believed all along that the attack on the consulate was a terrorist strike.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: So let's -- before we set up these clips, let's make sure we set this up right. So we've been hearing, Mark Halperin, that Susan Rice said what she said because she was just reading straight Intel basically from the CIA. We find out after David Petraeus’ testimony, this just isn't true. That immediately David Petraeus and Intel officials knew this was an Al-Qaeda attack. Right?
MARK HALPERIN: It's still kind of confusing.
SCARBOROUGH: By the way, I'm basing that on The New York Times reports and everything I read through the weekend.
HALPERIN: Yeah, the totality of the reporting, there was another line coming out of that closed hearing which was they didn't want to say everything they knew in public because they didn't want the terrorists to know that the U.S. government was on to them.
SCARBOROUGH: Well I heard that. But, I mean, seriously, Al-Qaeda. They're like, oh, you know, we couldn't say it was Al-Qaeda because that might expose some of our assets on the ground. Andrea Mitchell, the term Al-Qaeda, like, if there's a terror attack in the Middle East, and you say Al-Qaeda, that's going to expose some of our assets on the ground? That does not, as my professor said, Professor Pearson, that does not pass the straight face test.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Or the smell test. I think the problem here is what this has exposed is the bureaucracy of the intelligence community. The fact that the intelligence community waters down what can be said in a declassified setting and that Susan Rice, I mean the criticism is that she took what they handed her and didn't challenge it, which her defenders, Dianne Feinstein on Meet The Press and others say is really really unfair. You're pilaring this woman. She says it is, Feinstein's words, character assassination, to suggest that she would read anything other than the unclassified version of this. A lot of people are asking where was Hillary Clinton that weekend? She knew better than to go out into the middle of this. She doesn’t do the Sunday talk shows. So they gave Susan Rice this assignment. She went on all five shows. And it was supposed to be an important venue for her. And by going with these declassified talking points, she has now taken the hit. This reminds me very much, Joe, Mika, and everybody, of what happened in the month leading up to the Iraq war when the declassified version was different in thrust than what was known about WMD and what the Senators should have been reading. And the intelligence community has to be asked why do you tell the American public something that is different in meaning? It should be perhaps leave out details, leave outsources and methods?
SCARBOROUGH: Again, though, the details here were Al-Qaeda.
SCARBOROUGH: Just so people at home don't think that this is just Lindsey Graham and John McCain going at it, Maureen Dowd was especially tough yesterday on Susan Rice because Susan Rice read the Intel briefings, she knew what the truth was and she chose to read something. If the script was handed to her, Maureen Dowd’s point Steve Ratner was if the scripts was inaccurate, misleading, she shouldn't have read it.
STEVE RATNER: Okay but look. I think we have to go through this logically. What we know -- I think what we know is that the CIA produced a set of talking points that included Al-Qaeda, included more specific references to what happened. Somewhere during an interagency process, and I've been through a bunch of these interagency processes, these drafts get handed around. People mark them up. They mark them up for all different kinds of reasons. Somewhere along that way those words were changed.
SCARBOROUGH: Al-Qaeda was taken out. Now the suggestion, of course, is by republicans, that –
RATNER: That it was political. That’s one suggestion.
SCARBOROUGH: In the middle of the campaign. And, again, the president's punch line for a lot of speeches, GM's alive, Osama Bin Laden's dead. Al-Qaeda’s on the run.
RATNER: That’s one suggestion. But it seems to me,
SCARBOROUGH: It’s a pretty strong suggestion.
RATNER: But before you get to the question of what Susan Rice should or shouldn't have said, I think we need to know the answer of who changed their talking points and why. And then I think we'll know a lot more about what went on.
HALPERIN: I agree with that but this is not just a one off where ambassador rice went on the Sunday shows and said this. Jay Carney was asked for a week about this and gaffe substantively the same answer.
SCARBOROUGH: And again, Andrea, what I don't understand is that Susan Rice said this five days in. The president -- remember, the president at the debate saying, you know, and Candy Crowley for some reason basically making up history on the run, said, well, the president did say this was a terrorist attack the day after, which he really didn't say that at all. So there's an inconsistency even there. In the debate, the president said, we said this the day after that it was an act of terror. No, no, he didn't. And five days later, Susan Rice is reading a supposedly Intel that says it wasn't a terror attack. I mean, there are -- there's confusion.
BRZEZINSKI: Why is this important, Andrea?
SCARBOROUGH: First of all, and why can't they get their stories straight a month and a half later?
MITCHELL: Well, one reason is it's important for us to know about the intelligence failure leading up to and coming out of Benghazi, according to the both Republicans and Democrats, there really wasn't an intelligence failure, they knew what was happening. Then why didn't the State Department ask for more security and, more broadly, how should we handle regions like this where we want to have diplomatic and intelligence missions and we're asking people to serve where they cannot properly be protected. So there are big issues. There's also a proxy war going on here because Susan Rice had a very sharp tone during the 2008 campaign against some people like John McCain. And there is a disagreement there that is now being exaggerated all out of proportion, some people say, because they just are seeing this as a trophy where they can get a prominent nominee, potential nominee, for one of the top cabinet positions, there’s Treasury, there’s State, Defense.
SCARBOROUGH: That's one side of it. The other side of it would be -- and I hate to say this -- but I wonder if that would be the media narrative if George W. Bush, we're accuse of doing, what, I don't know, politicizing –
BRZEZINSKI: It's not a narrative. It's just a point that Andrea made.
SCARBOROUGH: I'm not talking about Andrea. I'm hearing this a lot though coming out of the White House and I'm hearing it also that, again, there is -- there is no doubt it is personal. I agree with Andrea completely, it is personal between John McCain and Susan Rice. I agree with that completely. What is surprising is it's been a month and a half maybe, two months, and this -- this looks to some, including Maureen Dowd, like it was a politicizing of Intel, the death of an American ambassador and we can brush it aside if we want to.
BRZEZINSKI: There's the other side to it where you see Republicans going after someone they want to bring in?
RATNER: We shouldn't glide too quickly over Andrea’s other important point, which is the security failure, that we had the Intel, knew what was going on in Benghazi and yet we did not protect our people there adequately.
JON HEILEMANN: To me that's always -- that's the most troubling aspect of the entire thing. And it's the thing that Senator Feinstein was clearest about on Meet The Press yesterday, was the notion that there had been months of concerns raised by people on the ground that the consulate itself was not well protected enough and that people crying out for more security and that those decisions were not made to protect those people as they should have been. To me that actually is almost the more substantially troubling thing about the entire episode.