And, as we now know, just before 11:30 PM (CIA timeline), Washington time, one of the CIA reinforcements, Glen Doherty, was killed, along with Woods, at the Benghazi annex. Following that strike, the survivors, with the bodies of three of the four American dead, then waited for another half hour before friendly Libyan forces finally arrived, in strength — midnight, Washington time — to escort them to the airport. If it now seems safe to record, with hindsight, that the attack stopped after that lethal bombardment, did anyone have reason to be sure at the time that it was really over?
Where exactly was President Obama during those seven hours, 5 PM till midnight in Washington, on Sept. 11? He had no further appointments scheduled. He has released no pictures, provided no specifics. Was he in the situation room throughout? After the 5 PM directive, was he there at all? There are many questions about what orders did or did not issue from the White House, and who gave them, or didn’t, during the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack. But they all lead back to the president. He’s the commander-in-chief, as he reminded the country on Thursday, while campaigning in his Air Force One bomber jacket.
On a normal evening, there may be no call for the American public to know exactly what their president does with his time. But this was no normal evening. This was a terrorist attack, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, in which an al Qaeda affiliate, claiming credit, was so visible on the ground as to deter CIA agents from approaching a hospital to retrieve the body of the first American ambassador to be murdered since the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
All we have of the timeline for Obama himself during these events is that he met with the secretary of Defense and a number of other senior officials at 5 PM, Sept. 11. He gave a somewhat odd statement in the Rose Garden at 10:35 the next morning. He then dropped by the State Department. And at 2:05 he left the White House for a campaign trip to Las Vegas. When do we see the rest of the President Obama 9/11 timeline?
Addendum: We have another data point, one I’d missed. The Weekly Standard’s editor, William Kristol, just sent me an item on “Obama’s Sept. 11 Phone Call” — a phone call, lasting a full hour, that Obama placed that same evening, Sept. 11, to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What did they talk about? The White House hustled out a short readout that same evening, noting that the two leaders had discussed Iran’s nuclear program, and “agreed to continue their close consultations going forward.” All well and good, Iran is a terrible threat. But what was so urgent that Obama placed the call, and spent a full hour on it, during that fraught evening? Well, stories had been popping up all day, until at least as late as this Reuters account, filed at 7:18 PM Washington time, that Obama had snubbed Netanyahu by refusing a request to meet with him at the UN General Assembly in New York later that month. This was not good for the Obama presidential campaign, and it might reasonably be asked, given the final line of the brief White House press release, if Obama was chiefly trying to stem the damage to himself: “Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied.”
What time did this hour long phone call take place? There’s no time stamp on the White House press release, but we can deduce it was relatively early in the evening, while the crisis was still unfolding in Benghazi. Reporter Lynn Sweet, of the Chicago Sun Times, filed a story about the phone call, that same evening, posted at 8:18 PM. Assuming that was 8:18 PM Central Time, thus 9:18 PM Eastern, and factoring in a mere half hour or so for the White House to produce the press release and Sweet to crash out a story, that means the phone call ended by 8:45 PM Washington time, at the latest. Because Obama was coming from the 5 PM meeting with Panetta, that means Obama began the hour long phone call sometime after 5 PM and before 7:45 PM. In Benghazi, that corresponded to 11-ish PM – 1:45 PM, the span in which the flaming main compound was abandoned under fire, the annex had come under attack, Obama’s ambassador was missing, and the reinforcements from Tripoli had run into delays at the Benghazi airport. (Israel, by the way, is seven hours ahead of Washington, so Netanyahu got that lengthy phone call from Obama sometime between midnight- 2:45 AM Israeli time.)
All of which leads to yet more questions, related to the Obama 9/11 timeline. Other than the attempt to defuse stories in the press about a snub (from the same president who outside campaign season had not only snubbed Netanyahu in person at the White House, but insulted him over an open microphone in France) was there anything discussed in that phone call that was so desperately urgent it couldn’t have waited until the white hot crisis in Benghazi was resolved? What time, exactly, did the president place that call?