We recently noted on this page the old elementary school axiom that there is no such thing as "just one lie." The proverb goes that once a lie is told, it leads to many more lies to defend the first one. The White House appears to be setting an example of this with its claims about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The attack occurred on September 11, 2012, in the midst of a close presidential race. President Obama had been campaigning in part on the theme that al Qaida was vanquished and on the run. A terrorist attack that killed our ambassador to Libya on the anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and twin towers did not fit that world view.
So the White House quickly went into denial mode. Days after the attack, they sent spokesperson Susan Rice onto five Sunday talk shows to claim that the attacks were a spontaneous reaction of Arab outrage over an Internet video. Later, forced to admit that was not so, the White House contended that the "talking points" developed for Rice to use on those programs were based on "the best information available at the time." It further contended the information about the video as used in the talking points came from the CIA. A couple of weeks ago, congressional testimony by CIA officials and emails obtained in a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch proved that wasn't true either. The CIA concluded almost immediately that the event was a coordinated attack by an al Qaida affiliate, and the story about the video was pretty clearly orchestrated by the White House.
Of more significance and certainly more damaging to the White House was the disclosure that a damning email obtained by Judicial Watch strongly suggesting a White House cover-up had been withheld from documents demanded under subpoena by Congress. That arguably illegal act led House Speaker John Boehner to do an about-face on his prior decision not to authorize empaneling of a congressional select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair.
As is often said about Watergate, it was not the crime, it was the cover-up that eventually brought the White House to shame.
Democrats for their part are largely trying to dismiss the latest developments as just more politics, intended to discredit the president and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who polls say is the leading contender to be Obama's successor. Democrats have threatened to boycott participation in the select committee, although to her credit House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has counseled against that.
For our part, and we think this reflects the view of much of the American public, we don't care what political points are scored or not scored through this exercise. We just want the truth. If the president and secretary of state acted appropriately under the circumstances during and after the attack, we want to know it.
And if they lied about the true nature of the attack in order to protect their political fortunes, the American people deserve to know that too.
In the email at the heart of the new probe, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes tells White House colleagues the focus of Rice's comments should be "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy." The fact that email was withheld from a congressional panel investigating the source of the White House "Internet video" storyline certainly leaves the administration with some explaining to do.
Questions also are now arising about emails of internal discussions concerning the Benghazi storyline that the administration retroactively classified in February and April of this year.
This series of events certainly is starting to walk like a duck - a duck named "cover-up" - and it's appropriate that a congressional select committee attempt to get to the bottom of it.