During his first press conference in eight months, the president who once promised to lead the most transparent and open government in American history showed flashes of anger at the mention of a few senators who have a problem with one of his ambassadors. The reporter, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, led off his question noting that several Republican senators are calling for Watergate-style hearings into Benghazi, before noting their criticisms of Ambassador Susan Rice. President Obama lit off with an angry response reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s “that woman” response all those years ago in the Lewinsky affair. We now know that when Clinton angrily declared that “These allegations are false,” they were true. He was faking righteous indignation because admitting the truth at that point would have ruined him.
Watch Obama’s tone here.
OBAMA: But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.
And you know, we’re after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I’m happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have, and we will continue to provide information. And we’ve got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.
And I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem. And we’ve got to get to the bottom of it, and there needs to be accountability. We’ve got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won’t get any debate from me on that.
But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose — if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity — the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.
The president’s angry defense here makes very little sense. The very best that can be said of Ambassador Rice with regard to Benghazi is that she went on five Sunday talk shows and never knew what she was talking about. The worst that can be said is that she is part of a campaign of disinformation or even a cover-up. The president says that it’s the former, that she spoke on his orders based on information that was told to her. That’s news and should have sparked follow-up questions from the media. But instead, there was no direct follow-up. Fox’s Ed Henry asked about the Benghazi victims’ families, not whether Rice’s critics might have a point. Were the media cowed by Obama’s flash of temper into avoiding a subject that obviously irked him?
They seemed to have been. The questions to that point had not been tough by any stretch. They got even less tough after that.
But on deeper level, why did criticism of Susan Rice even provoke Obama at all? Why does he feel so protective of her? She’s a professional in a hard knock career. He isn’t her father or brother, he is her boss. Reputations get besmirched in Washington every day. Obama just won his re-election partly by besmirching the reputation of Mitt Romney, so surely he has no problem with besmirching others when it suits him.
He calls Rice an “easy target,” but his own actions — having her walk point on the Benghazi-movie story on those talk shows — made her a target in the first place. If she’s a target, he built her into one. He says that she “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” which begs the question, then why was she the person that the White House put out on those Sunday shows? Was she merely there auditioning for a job promotion, or was she put there precisely because she only knew the Benghazi talking points and nothing else? He says that her critics should “come after him,” but he never gives a straight answer on what happened in Benghazi. Coming after him has proven pointless, and the other officials who know the most about Benghazi are currently in Australia or are fighting through a sex scandal. Obama’s macho “if they have a problem with her, they have a problem with me” bit is entirely out of place, unless Susan Rice had no choice but to appear on those talk shows and spread what Obama and his inner circle knew was misinformation.
Well, it’s out of place unless Obama has an awful lot to hide, and is trying to scare senators and reporters away from asking too many more questions. That’s one of the few possibilities that makes any sense of his strange behavior.
Looking at the bigger picture, is this behavior suggestive of someone who is ready to compromise with anyone?