On September 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of an independent panel to investigate the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The need for such a probe is clear, given the tragic loss of life, questions surrounding the security breach and conflicting statements from the Obama administration as to whether the incident was a planned terror plot.
And yet, on the same day that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement explaining that DNI "revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee nevertheless suggested President Obama should be impeached.
But before Huckabee's Republican allies begin the chants of "cover up" and "worse than Watergate," they might pause to remember their party's reaction to calls to create an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks that killed over 3,000 people right here in the United States. After all, until they yielded to overwhelming public pressure, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and GOP leaders in Congress opposed the 9/11 Commission charged with learning the truth about the worst attack on the U.S. homeland.
In May 2002, Republicans circled the wagons around President Bush after revelations that the administration had been warned about possible Al Qaeda plans to hijack aircraft. But when Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle asked "Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information?" and called for a blue-ribbon commission to investigate, the GOP's top brass railed to Bush's defense. Daschle's Republican counterpart Trent Lott denounced the demands for an inquiry:
"I really think there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it. For us to be talking like our enemy, George W. Bush instead of Osama bin Laden, that's not right."
Lott's colleague Kay Bailey Hutchison
"I don't think that anyone should start pointing fingers in a personal way or suggest that people are trying to cover their political backsides. I just think that's ridiculous. I think we need to go forward. We need to be positive. There are failures. We need to get to the root of it and try to make our country more secure."
Vice President Dick Cheney and the soon-to-be disgraced Tom Delay
took a different tack, claiming an investigation into the catastrophe of 9/11 would itself hinder the war against Al Qaeda. As Delay groused:
"A public commission investigating American intelligence in a time of war is ill conceived and, frankly, irresponsible. We need to address America's challenges in intelligence gathering and terrorist prevention. But we don't need to hand the terrorists an after-action report."
Cheney, meanwhile, suggested that trying to find out what President Bush knew and when he knew it would provide aid and comfort to the enemy:
"An investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists. The people and agencies responsible for helping us learn about and defeat such an attack are the very ones most likely to be distracted from their critical duties if Congress fails to carry out their obligations in a responsible fashion."
For his part, President Bush echoed that assessment. As CBS reported on May 23, 2002
President Bush took a few minutes during his trip to Europe Thursday to voice his opposition to establishing a special commission to probe how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11.
Mr. Bush said the matter should be dealt with by congressional intelligence committees.
CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports that Mr. Bush said the investigation should be confined to Congress because it deals with sensitive information that could reveal sources and methods of intelligence. Therefore, he said, the congressional investigation is "the best place" to probe the events leading up to the terrorist attacks.
"I have great confidence in our FBI and CIA," the President said in Berlin, adding that he feels the agencies are already improving their information sharing practices.
(Bush's reticence wasn't surprising, given the continuing revelations
about the repeated warnings he received about Al Qaeda throughout the spring and summer of 2001.)
Continue reading below the fold.
The previous week, New York GOP Rep. Peter King came to the defense
of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. After Rice protested that "don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon," King told CNN's Paul Begala:
"No it's not factually false. Paul, what she's saying - what Dr. Rice is saying quite clearly is that nothing in the report that was submitted to the president on August 6th indicated that type of hijacking nor was there any real emphasis given on the question of hijacking. There was any number of things that al Qaeda could have done. There was no reason to think that between August 6th and September 11th that any hijacking of a plane, which would crash into a building would take place."
Of course, that was then and this is now. And now, a Democrat is sitting in the Oval Office and a different Rice--Susan Rice--is representing the U.S. at the United Nations
. Now, a decade after Condi Rice warned of the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud, Rep. King is insisting that Ambassador Rice must resign
for her statements last weekend that the Benghazi attack was not pre-planned. As King explained to the National Review, "She is America's foreign policy spokesman to the world as ambassador to the U.N.... but the fact is she gave out information which was either intentionally or unintentionally misleading and wrong and there should be consequences for that." On Friday, King repeated his demand to CNN
"I believe that this was such a failure of foreign policy messag[ing] and leadership, such a misstatement of facts as was known at the time ... for her to go on all of those shows and in effect be our spokesman for the world and be misinforming the American people and our allies and countries around the world, to me, somebody has to pay the price for this."
Pay a price, that is, if they are working for a Democratic President.