President Obama hosted another White House press conference this morning, this time standing alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, and addressed the stories that seem to be dominating the political world's attention.
On the IRS matter, for example, the president joined the bipartisan chorus, insisting that those responsible must be held "fully accountable." Obama added, "If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous and there's no place for it.... I've got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
But it was the president's comments on Benghazi that were of particular interest.
Obama appeared eager to resolve the matter once and for all. This is a little long, but it's worth your time:
"The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow....[T]he emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no 'there' there."Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred, pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing. And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill, and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it."So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that in fact has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya."Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So the whole thing defies logic. And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.... They've used it for fund-raising."
These arguments have the added benefit of being true.
If you go through every lingering argument from the right on Benghazi, what we're left with is one thing: the multiple drafts of the talking points. That's it. That's the "scandal."
And what do the talking points tell us? That there was bureaucratic infighting between State and the CIA. Why is that scandalous? It's not.
What's more, I talked to a senior administration official this morning who confirmed with me that that there was a March 19 briefing in which all of these materials were shared with House lawmakers. The meeting , led by the General Counsel of the DNI, Robert Litt, included aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and all of the members of the House Intelligence Committee and their staffs. After the briefing, no one, in either party, considered the email drafts controversial.
Two months later, however, we're supposed to perceive this as Watergate?
There's no great mystery here -- congressional Republicans are manufacturing an outrage, in part to undermine the White House, in part because they hope to tarnish Hillary Clinton, and in part because the GOP sees value in riling up its base for fundraising purposes.