On Thursday morning, CNN's John Berman hammered a Democratic congressman who said the cause of the Benghazi attacks doesn't make a difference at this point. In contrast, anchor Soledad O'Brien didn't ask about the controversy over that remark shouted first by Secretary Clinton.
"But, Congressman – don't the facts always make a difference and doesn't knowing the facts and knowing them quickly always help in evaluating the situation so it can be prevented in the future?" Berman pressed.
On the next hour during Starting Point, anchor Soledad O'Brien deflected scrutiny away from Clinton in her interview with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.). O'Brien focused instead on remarks Johnson made on Clinton after Wednesday's Senate hearing.
When Johnson accused the Obama administration of "playing election politics" after the Benghazi attacks, O'Brien fired back, "And someone could argue, Senator, that you're playing politics too," before quoting him from a BuzzFeed interview saying Clinton used her emotions to sidestep answering his question.
Johnson soon returned to the Benghazi issue, but O'Brien forced him back to his BuzzFeed comments: "Let's go back to the question though." The rest of the interview went the same way; O'Brien hammering Johnson for accusing Clinton of faking her emotions, and Johnson wanting to hit the Obama administration for not coming out fully on Benghazi.
O'Brien has been friendly to the Obama administration on Benghazi in the past. Back in November, she grilled a Republican for hypocrisy in his opposition to Susan Rice's candidacy for Secretary of State; however, she failed to be equally tough with her Democratic guest on Rice's qualifications.
And a few days later, O'Brien teed up liberal Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to cry racism over the GOP's opposition to Susan Rice.
A transcript of O'Brien's interview with Johnson, which aired on January 24 on Starting Point at 7:39 p.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, two things. First, she said to you that what does it really matter if the goal is looking forward, and the second thing she said, to which when you pointed out that you thought -- when she said I didn't want to interfere in the process, you said, well, that's a good excuse.
Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wisc.): That is a dodge but let's go back to "what difference does it make?" I believe the American people deserve to be told the truth. I believe the American people need to understand what happened. And I really think the American people do have an expectation that this President, this administration is honest with them. So I think it makes a great deal of difference. And the fact of the matter is this administration has been hiding behind an FBI investigation and then a 60-day accountability review board report just happened to land past the election. So they were playing election politics, no doubt about it. But listen –
O'BRIEN: And someone could argue, Senator, that you're playing politics too, because one of the things you said to BuzzFeed, let me read it to you, you said to BuzzFeed, "I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans" – that's when she was really choking up – "the heroes and used that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me." And then the other question I point out where you said – when she said she didn't want to interfere in the process, you said, well, that's a good excuse. So it sounds to me like you're saying, a lot of that was just faked.
JOHNSON: Well, listen. I was responding to a question, maybe I shouldn't have speculated. The bottom line is, I agree with Secretary Clinton that we need to understand what happened so we can prevent it in the future. But again, we do need to get to the bottom of what actually happened. What is the truth of the matter here? Did the administration mislead us? I absolutely believe they did. And I think that's important for the American people to understand.
O'BRIEN: Let's go back to the question though, and I hear you. But respectfully, here's what you told BuzzFeed. "It was a good way of getting out of having to respond to me," and the question to the Secretary right before she really said "With all due respect, Senator," and kind of went at you a little bit, you said, "well, that's a good excuse." So to me both of those things read, I think fairly, as someone who's saying "you're faking it. This is fake."
JOHNSON: Listen, they were hiding behind the FBI investigation. They were hiding behind this Accountability Review Board report, so they weren't answering any questions. It's taken four months. And I understand she had health problems, I'm glad she's returned to health. But the fact of the matter is this administration has not been straightforward with the American public. And again, I'm getting pressure from my constituents to find out the truth. The American people deserve the truth. That is why this matters. But it also matters enormously. And this is where I agree with Secretary Clinton. The main point is let's find out what happened. Let's prevent it from happening in the future. There is a failure of leadership before this and certainly after this, and we need to correct those problems.
O'BRIEN: You accuse her of crying and being emotional as a good way of getting out.
JOHNSON: I did not – no, I did not accuse her of crying or – no.
O'BRIEN: You said, "she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes. It was a good way of getting out of having to really respond to me. How am I misreading that?"
JOHNSON: I was responding to a question, Soledad. I probably speculated and I shouldn't have. The bottom line here again is the reason it makes a difference is the American people deserve the truth from their president and from this administration, and they haven't gotten it yet.
And I'm going to continue to try and figure out what the truth is. Why haven't we been able to question those evacuees? That's one of the questions we're going to be asking. Can those folks be made available so we can find out what happened, who they were talking to, who in the administration might have actually known what happened as they were misleading the American people for those couple of weeks, probably for the last couple months?