Opinion

Susan Rice did her job – and repeated what intelligence community told her

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

When UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on TV morning talk shows on Sunday, November 16, 2012, she did so because the White House asked her to — to discuss not only the tragic events of September 11 in Benghazi, Libya, leading to the loss of 4 American lives, but also, the topic of Israel’s concerns about Iran’s closeness to nuclear capability, and the spread of violent protests in the Muslim world triggered by the anti-Muslim video.

She has been accused of intentionally misleading the American people on these programs.  The facts prove otherwise:  the Ambassador faithfully repeated the “talking points” drafted by the intelligence community and given to her prior to her TV appearances. These same talking points on which she relied had been approved by CIA Director, General David Petraeus and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Here is the text of the talking points made public last Friday by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and devolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex.  There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” (My emphasis).

Despite all the speculative and somewhat over-heated chatter over the weekend about the White House “changing” the CIA-written talking points, in fact the only change was technical and non-substantive — the word “Consulate” was replaced by the words “US diplomatic post” since there was no formal “Consulate” (an official State Department office) established in Benghazi at that time.

Now let’s compare the key words highlighted here to what Ambassador Rice said on the Sunday shows on September 16.

Ambassador Rice used the same caveats regarding uncertainty of information at that time:  “…our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present” (ABC This Week); “the best information we have at present…our current assessment … there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing” (NBC’s Meet the Press);

The same reference to Cairo-linked “spontaneous” protests:  “a spontaneous…response to what had transpired in Cairo… (ABC’s This Week);

The “evolution” into a violent assault by “extremists”: “that [protest]… seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons…and it evolved from there.” (This Week); “what we think then transpired…is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding…..And that spun from there into something much more violent. (Meet).

The possibility of al Qaeda’s involvement:  “Well, we’ll have to find out…it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”

Whether the incident leading to the loss of four American lives was “preplanned:” Ambassador Rice never denied that the incident was planned. All she said was that “we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.” This was entirely consistent with a memo from the National Counterterrorist Center on November 14, two days before her TV appearances: “… [W]e are not aware of any actionable intelligence that this attack was planned or imminent.”

Was the incident an act of terror? Ambassador Rice never denied that what had occurred in Benghazi was an act of terror. The suggestion that the ambassador during her TV appearances had made a distinction between “violence using heavy weapons,” which she specifically said might have involved al Qaeda, and “act of terror.” is false.