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Panetta: Obama Absent Night of Benghazi

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified this morning on Capitol Hill that President Barack Obama was absent the night four Americans were murdered in Benghazi on September 11, 2012:

Panetta said, though he did meet with Obama at a 5 o'clock prescheduled gathering, the president left operational details, including knowledge of what resources were available to help the Americans under siege, "up to us."

In fact, Panetta says that the night of 9/11, he did not communicate with a single person at the White House. The attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Obama did not call or communicate in anyway with the defense secretary that night. There were no calls about what was going on in Benghazi. He never called to check-in.

The 5 o'clock meeting was a pre-scheduled 30-minute session, where, according to Panetta's recollection, they spent about 20 minutes talking a lot about the American embassy that was surrounded in Egypt and the situation that was just unfolding in Benghazi. 

As Bill Kristol wrote in the month after the attack, "Panetta's position is untenable: The Defense Department doesn't get to unilaterally decide whether it's too risky or not to try to rescue CIA operators, or to violate another country's air space. In any case, it’s inconceivable Panetta didn't raise the question of what to do when he met with the national security adviser and the president at 5 p.m. on the evening of September 11 for an hour. And it's beyond inconceivable he didn't then stay in touch with the White House after he returned to the Pentagon."

Perhaps it was "inconceivable," but it is according to Panetta exactly what happened. 

But Obama did have time to make a political call to the Israeli prime minister. "[W]e do know one thing the president found time to do that evening: He placed a call to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to defuse a controversy about President Obama's refusal to meet with Netanyahu two weeks later at the U.N. General Assembly, and, according to the White House announcement that evening, spent an hour on the phone with him," Kristol wrote. 

 "While Americans were under assault in Benghazi, the president found time for a non-urgent, politically useful, hour-long call to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And his senior national security staff had to find time to arrange the call, brief the president for the call, monitor it, and provide an immediate read-out to the media. I suspect Prime Minister Netanyahu, of all people, would have understood the need to postpone or shorten the phone call if he were told that Americans were under attack as the president chatted. But for President Obama, a politically useful telephone call—and the ability to have his aides rush out and tell the media about that phone call—came first."

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