NBC's Gregory Grills Rep. Issa for 'Politically Overreaching' on Benghazi Scandal

In an interview with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa on Sunday's Meet the Press, host David Gregory attempted to dismiss the growing Benghazi scandal for the Obama administration as a GOP political attack: "You've got Republicans talking about this being Watergate. One Republican raising the specter of impeachment. Conservative groups raising money off of the Benghazi story. Are you hurting your own credibility and your own find – fact-finding mission by politically overreaching?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Moments later, Gregory downplayed the Benghazi terrorist attack as just one incident among many that have "happened throughout our recent history....spanning Republican and Democratic administrations, including President Bush's administration." He then tried to pin the blame on Congress: "Why is there not more of an effort to beef up security after these attacks happen....And isn't this Congress's job to spend the money to beef up security?"

Earlier in the exchange, after detailing how the State Department forced deceptive editing of CIA talking points on the attack, Gregory actually blamed the intelligence agency for not resisting the administration's political pressure: "Didn't the CIA – didn't the intelligence community have the final word on what the accurate talking points would be?...CIA can't stand up for itself and say, 'No, no, these are the facts'?"

Issa explained: "To blame the CIA is a convenient truth. The real truth is, the people who were there in Tripoli and in Benghazi knew this was a terrorist attack from the get-go. That's been said under oath."

Gregory then tired another line of defense: "CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there – that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were – there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here?"

Issa replied: "David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication, Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear."

Gregory incredulously responded:

What is the big picture here? You are saying that administration officials – are these political advisors to the president, are these non-political appointees – bullied the CIA into saying what the polit – the political advisors in the White House wanted him to say? Is that your charge?...you just said that the CIA was – had to back down from what they originally wanted to say and that David Petraeus said what the White House wanted to say. I mean, those are very serious charges....And I just want to be clear what you believe the lie was.

Gregory even went so far as to cite former President George W. Bush to reject the Benghazi scandal. A clip played of Bush revealing: "I didn't e-mail anybody when I was president. I – I was fearful of – of congressional intrusion into my e-mails so – which is kind of sad really because a lot of history's lost when presidents are nervous about their personal papers being subpoenaed."

Gregory then observed to Issa: "Congressional intrusion was his fear. Now, what we're talking about with regard to Benghazi does not involve a president's e-mail, but it involves e-mails in what's called the interagency process. And what your critics have asked is, are you reading into something that is not there, discussions about what happened, about what the various inputs of information are. Are you over-reading?"

If Bush had made that revelation while in office, Gregory and his media colleagues would have demanded for more transparency and suggested a cover-up.


Here are portions of the May 12 exchange:

10:35AM ET

(...)

DAVID GREGORY: Why don't I start there, because in the immediate aftermath, there is both intelligence and there's internal administration communication basically saying that a terrorist group appears to be involved, right? Ansar al-Sharia. There's communication about this in the State Department, but those are removed ultimately from the talking points in preparation for members of Congress and for Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, who appeared here and on other Sunday morning talk shows.

And Steve Hayes has reported about this in The Weekly Standard. He writes about some of these changes. "The official who changed it at the State Department, The Weekly Standard confirmed was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for 'not paying attention to agency warnings' about security in Benghazi. In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al-Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up e-mail at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained that her superior – she did not say which ones – were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not 'resolve all my issues or those in my building leadership.'

You suggest, others have, she's playing politics with the aftermath of this. But Chairman, didn't the CIA – didn't the intelligence community have the final word on what the accurate talking points would be?

DARRELL ISSA [REP. R-CA]: No, not at all. If you keep pushing back, you get a first report from the CIA. That's their report. Then you push back, you get a little different. You push back, you get a little different. That's manipulating the CIA to get the – the truth you want.

GREGORY: CIA can't stand up for itself and say, "No, no, these are the facts"?

ISSA: The fact is, there was a fact witness. His name was Ambassador Stevens. He said, "Greg, we're under attack," to his number two. That was the definitive statement from the Ambassador on the ground before he was murdered. You have a fact witness. And you follow that up with fact witness after fact witness. So, to blame the CIA is a convenient truth. The real truth is, the people who were there in Tripoli and in Benghazi knew this was a terrorist attack from the get-go. That's been said under oath. And that's the reason that we need to know more about how these got changed.

GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this, talking to administration officials, is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there – that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were – there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here?

ISSA: David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication, Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear. The only under-oath people I know about who have said what happened on the ground that day was, in fact, before our committee just on Wednesday. And more importantly, you know, when Face the nation had Susan Rice saying one thing and the president of Libya saying just the opposite, that should have been a wake-up call, a real wake-up call that there was something wrong because we were effectively calling the president of Libya either incompetent or a liar. Either way, diplomatically, we went down the wrong road. You reconcile with the government that is hosting you before you go on national television and make that kind of claim.

GREGORY: I just want to be – what is – what is the big picture here? You are saying that administration officials – are these political advisors to the president, are these non-political appointees – bullied the CIA into saying what the polit – the political advisors in the White House wanted him to say? Is that your charge?

ISSA: David, we're not making charges.

GREGORY: No, no. But you just said…

ISSA: David…

GREGORY: …that the CIA was – had to back down from what they originally wanted to say and that David Petraeus said what the White House wanted to say. I mean, those are very serious charges.

REP. ISSA: Those – those talking points are not the starting talking points, they're the ending talking points. So we're not reaching every conclusion. We are not accusing who changed that. The fact is, we want the facts. We're entitled to the facts. The American people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month. That's important to get right.

GREGORY: And I just want to be clear what you believe the lie was.

(...)

10:39AM ET

GREGORY: I want to have you respond to something else. Former President Bush gave an interview this week in which he talked about e-mail in the executive branch, particularly his own. I want to play that for you and then ask you about it.

GEORGE W. BUSH: They'll learn that I didn't e-mail anybody when I was president. I – I was fearful of – of congressional intrusion into my e-mails so – which is kind of sad really because a lot of history's lost when presidents are nervous about their personal papers being subpoenaed.

GREGORY: That was a couple of weeks ago. Congressional intrusion was his fear. Now, what we're talking about with regard to Benghazi does not involve a president's e-mail, but it involves e-mails in what's called the interagency process. And what your critics have asked is, are you reading into something that is not there, discussions about what happened, about what the various inputs of information are. Are you over-reading?

(...)

GREGORY: You've got Republicans talking about this being Watergate. One Republican raising the specter of impeachment. Conservative groups raising money off of the Benghazi story. Are you hurting your own credibility and your own find – fact-finding mission by politically overreaching?

(...)

GREGORY: The issue of security that you talk about, how do we prevent this from happening again? The reality, Chairman, as you know, is that it's happened throughout our recent history. Just look at some of the attacks on diplomatic compounds or facilities or U.S. interests over the years. You go back-

ISSA: You know, Gregory Hicks, in fact, testified to what happened in Bahrain under his watch.

GREGORY: Hold on, let me just go through-   

ISSA: How in fact they prepared for a possible attack and they survived the attack even though they lost a few cars-

GREGORY: But look – but look at these attacks on U.S. interest spanning Republican and Democratic administrations, including President Bush's administration. Why is there not more of an effort to beef up security after these attacks happen and even, you – you know, even before this happened in Benghazi?

ISSA: David-

GREGORY: And isn't this Congress's job to spend the money to beef up security?

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC