Ron Radosh

Reassessing Victoria Nuland's Role in the Benghazi Cover-up: Was the CIA Trying to Set Up the State Department?

In my last column at PJM, I wrote that Jonathan Karl of ABC News held Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responsible for dissembling about Benghazi.

Now, in the Washington Post, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin — once the D.C. bureau chief of PJ Media — casts grave doubt about Victoria Nuland’s involvement in a cover-up, and puts Nuland’s e-mail in a very different context than that put forth by Jonathan Karl of ABC News. Rubin writes: 

A summary of e-mail exchanges involving her has circulated to news outlets, and it places [Nuland], falsely, in the thick of the controversy about the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice eventually used on the Sunday shows.

As Rubin explains, most of the people working at the State Department believed what took place at Benghazi was a terrorist attack, but that they could not publicly state that since they were awaiting confirmation from the CIA, which ran the second compound at the Benghazi consulate. 

When Nuland received another e-mail with talking points from CIA chief David Petraeus, it included points State was not allowed to make which made it seem that the agency was trying to implicate the State Department as the government agency that was ignoring warnings, rather than the CIA. Rubin is arguing that the CIA was engaged in a PR exercise meant to make it look good and was trying to cast blame for the Benghazi tragedy on the State Department. As Rubin writes:

This, by the way, gets to the heart of the matter involving Benghazi. It was primarily a CIA operation, as others have reported. If there really were warnings, why had the CIA’s station chief not been alerted? Why was its men in peril? It is not atypical for the CIA to point fingers at other agencies, but it was particularly jarring when their own personnel were victimized.

When Nuland wrote that concerns in her “building” were not being addressed, she meant only that “her department was being singled out inaccurately and unfairly by the CIA.” Rubin also stresses that all of these e-mail exchanges involved communications staff, and did not include policy-makers or high-level administration appointments at State: Rubin writes:

It is not the communications people who bear any responsibility for the scrubbing that went on over the weekend. In my own reporting, I have previously noted that Nuland studiously refused to confirm the “video made them do it” story line or the spontaneous demonstration cover story coming out of the White House. The difference between what she was saying (it’s under investigation, we don’t know, ask the White House) was noticeably different from what we heard coming from the White House, which perpetuated the video narrative again and again. 

So, please read Rubin’s post in its entirety. We can all agree, I think, on her ending. Rubin writes that Petraeus and Hillary Clinton have to be brought back to testify before Rep. Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It was the secretary of State herself who called on her top deputy Cheryl Mills to cover for her. I also think that Victoria Nuland should voluntarily appear to clarify her role, and to be given a chance to answer those like Jonathan Karl who made her the centerpiece of their stories. 

This entire episode, which is getting so convoluted, needs clarity and, above all, careful assessments from commentators. If we get something wrong, it needs to be pointed out how we did. At Powerline, Scott Mirengoff argues that while Obama is likely to get out of any responsibility for Benghazi, Hillary Clinton will not be so lucky. He writes

If the CIA and the State Department disagreed, the administration should not have included State’s spin merely because that’s what Hillary Clinton wanted.

This notion is so basic that it casts serious doubt on the White House’s “deference to the State Department made us do it” explanation — an excuse that, it should be noticed, won’t warm the heart of Hillary Clinton. In all likelihood, Team Obama endorsed State’s spin because it presented the version of events that best suited the president’s campaign purposes.

Hillary, he has argued earlier, is possibly the most likely candidate to have orchestrated a cover-up.  It is clearly of great importance that she not be let off the hook, and that her underlings not be taken out to roast. Even though she is no longer in office, Hillary Clinton must not be allowed to escape any responsibility for what happened at Benghazi.

All this will hopefully be uncovered as the investigation continues.

Related: It Wasn’t ‘Necessary’ to Question Hillary for Benghazi Report: Pickering