Sharyl Attkisson: Morell's 'Bizarre' Benghazi Testimony Contradicts Past Claims About Attack
On the Thursday edition of WMAL's Mornings on the Mall radio show, Sharyl Attkisson spotlighted the Obama administration's many inconsistencies in their claims about the September 11, 2012 Islamist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. Attkisson outlined, in detail, "all of the different stories told about the talking points" about the terrorist attack.
Former Fox News anchor Brian Wilson and Breitbart.com's Larry O'Connor turned to the former CBS News journalist for her take on former deputy CIA director Mike Morell's congressional testimony on the Benghazi issue on Wednesday. She zeroed in on how Morell and others were trying to minimize any perception that the talking points were altered for political considerations: [MP3 audio of the full Attkisson segment available here]
SHARYL ATTKISSON: ...[T]he people defending the administration on the Benghazi talking points...led by Morell, are working so hard to try to dispel any idea that there was political motivation to leaving out the notion of terrorism, that they're all wrapped up in defending, what they admit, is bad intelligence decisions. In other words, he spent yesterday defending why they went with the faulty intelligence that advanced...the bad narrative that was untrue – and...without anybody pointing out he was doing this, [he] just kept saying why that was the right decision – even though it resulted in the wrong intelligence. It was a little bit bizarre.
Wilson led into the segment with Attkisson with a clip from the former deputy director's testimony, where he read an "e-mail that he got from the chief of station in Libya that said...This was not a protest that spiraled out of control. It was an attack." The WMAL host underlined that that detail "did not make its way into the talking points, which were repeated one day later on national TV by Susan Rice."
The former Fox News journalist then introduced Attkisson as "someone who has covered this Benghazi story to a great deal of acclaim," and pointed out that the now-independent journalist used her "Twitter feed last night...pumping all of these details – your observations – about the big hearing...where Deputy Director Mike Morell testified. You find a number of inconsistencies in what he says, and what we know about the story from past statements."
Attkisson first gave "little bit bizarre" label and summary about Morell's testimony. When Wilson followed up by stating that "'we were wrong, but we weren't political' – was the argument he was trying to make," she continued that the former intelligence official is "reputed to be someone who is fantastic in intelligence and very good at his job. He then admitted to all kinds of mistakes that sounded like rookies: for example...not listening to the people on the ground; and valuing the intelligence of the analysts in Washington, D.C., who had no information from people on the ground in Libya at the time."
O'Connor then highlighted how Rep. Mike Rogers, during the hearing, accused the Obama administration of forwarding the "talking points to perpetuate its own misguided political agenda." Attkisson replied that "it's still hard...to know that we have the entire story. There are still gaps. Morell was communicating with White House officials, including the now-chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who then was serving in a different role. But there was communication and there were meetings going on between the top deputies. And if it's true that Morell made the changes that he made for the reasons he made, it's very unclear why he's so clear in all of these details 18 months later – that nobody was clear about when asked immediately after it happened."
The former CBS journalist then gave her outline of the Obama administration's changing claims about the Benghazi talking points – something she also did in her write-up about Morell's testimony for her personal website, and how his claims on Wednesday fit into that matrix:
ATTKISSON: So, on Friday November 16, 2012 – we're talking a month after it happened – [David] Petraeus, who was Morell's boss at the time – director of the CIA – testified to members of Congress that it wasn't the CIA that revised the talking points to take out terrorism and al Qaeda. Now yesterday, Morell said it was. So if true, then Petraeus told Congress something that was untrue.
The...State Department said that, at the time, they didn't make the changes. Then, the CIA – an official from the CIA – told reporters, back in November of 2012, the edits were made at – quote, 'a senior level in the inter-agency process' – and they said that was so that al Qaeda wouldn't be tipped off as to what the U.S. knew, and to protect sources and methods. But then – because everybody was asking different agencies – in November of 2012, a source from the Director of National Intelligence – DNI – told Margaret Brennan, who works for CBS News – one of my former colleagues – that they made the edit, as part of the inter-agency process, because...they weren't sure about the links to al Qaeda – that it was too tenuous to make public.
Morell said something entirely different, by the way, yesterday. He said that the reason he took out al Qaeda – now he admits he did – was because the only way we knew al Qaeda was potentially involved was through classified intelligence. So, he couldn't say that publicly. To which, members of Congress reacted saying, well, how does that give up any intelligence – to simply say that we believe al Qaeda was involved?
But back to November of 2012, Morell, at the time, gave a different account. He met with Republican Senators [John] McCain, [Lindsay] Graham, and [Kelly] Ayotte, and he told them that the FBI did it. So, he said the FBI removed the reference-
WILSON: Yeah. He retracted that pretty quick, though, didn't he?
ATTKISSON: Yeah. So, immediately after he made that – because on that day, I spoke to Senator Graham right after he got this answer, and Graham said...the FBI did it – well, Graham called the FBI, and the FBI went ballistic, and said, absolutely not...we didn't do it. And Morell had said, oh, the FBI did that to prevent ongoing criminal investigation – compromising it...Well, the FBI had approved the talking points, saying it wouldn't compromise their investigation originally. So, in a matter of hours, the CIA then contacted Graham – again, back in November 2012 – and said, no, no – Morell misspoke....
Yesterday, when Morell was asked about all of that – again, a guy that is typically, by all accounts, so sharp and so on the mark about everything – he just says, well, I got it really mixed up back then. (Wilson laughs) I was wrong. You know, when I said it was the FBI, it was the CIA, and I corrected the record. And I just had it wrong at the time.
Near the end of the segment, Wilson pointed out that "Morell admitted that he removed talking points that the CIA had provided warnings to the State Department before the attack – even though David Petraeus, who was the director of the CIA at the time, wanted that included." Attkisson responded to this by noting the interesting timing of the former deputy director's actions:
ATTKISSON: I was so struck by – and wonder why nobody asked about the fact that what he said – Morell was deputy director at the time – and yet, clearly entirely in charge of everything about the talking points from the CIA's viewpoint – and actually, beyond. He seemed to have a reach, since he was in charge inter-agency, it seemed like he was calling the shots. And no one explained why Petraeus – who actually wanted the warnings that Petraeus put in there originally, or that the CIA put in there originally – acknowledged – or, at least put out there – that the CIA had issued some warnings that there could be something going on, both in Egypt and in Libya. And Morell, interestingly, defended the State Department's interests, not the CIA's-
WILSON: That's exactly right-
ATTKISSON: His own agency's interest in getting this material out. Petraeus, according to e-mails, sort of grumbled about it when the final draft went around, and said basically – I'm paraphrasing – that the talking points were worthless because they had take so much out; and that he really thought the warning language should be in. And I'm thinking, why was he taking a back seat to his deputy – his number two?
ATTKISSON: Now, at the time – I'll just point out – may have nothing to do with it – Petraeus was already under FBI investigation for his alleged extramarital affair. And Peter King, the Republican from New York, did comment later in the hearing – he seems kind of surprised, too – he said, Petraeus seems so passive, and that he'd never known Petraeus to be this passive, and why was he – he asked rhetorically – why was he sitting back the way he was? And he asked Morell, when did you learn about Petraeus' investigation – the investigation into him over the extramarital affair? And this is when Morell said, oh, I can't remember. And I'm thinking, you're the deputy-
WILSON: That's something you would remember – yeah-
ATTKISSON: Yeah. You're a very sharp guy. You're the deputy. You may have to take over in case this – this potential criminal investigation turns into something, and you don't remember the day – or approximately the day – when you found out this was all going on?
ATTKISSON: I think, in the next sentence, he said – Morell said – oh, I didn't know until the day before Petraeus resigned. So, in any event, I just find that, like you guys did, odd.
— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.