The cover-up unravels

Now we know. Or at least we know more than we did about what happened at Benghazi, and, even more telling, what happened afterward. And there's doubtless more to come. With each congressional hearing, with each appearance by another whistleblower, the picture becomes more complete. And it's not pretty. It's more like that Portrait of Dorian Gray hidden away in the attic that, when it is finally uncovered, shows every dirty deception, every scabrous half-truth that is even worse than a lie, all of it detailed in those emails that are today's equivalent of the Nixon Tapes. It could be the 1970s again.

The Portrait of Benghazi painted by this administration now begins to reveal every crack and flaw, every rhetorical sleight-of-word used to cover, first, its feckless incompetence when it came to protecting our diplomats and then, much worse, its attempts to cover its tracks even as the true heroes of Benghazi were being brought home in coffins.

As was said during Watergate, it's not the original scandal that disgraces a politician, even on the presidential level, but the cover-up, the tissue of fabrications a president -- and in this case a secretary of state, too -- kept weaving. Only to see it unravel at an ever faster pace.

The truth about what happened at Benghazi -- and afterward -- continues to out. But we the (ever-gullible) people are supposed to believe that all last week's sworn testimony was just part of a Republican plot to smear our leaders. But that dog won't hunt, as we say in these latitudes. Because, to quote a Republican who in his time was also denounced as just troublemaker seeking only partisan advantage, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time. And time is running out for those still defending the administration's execrable handling of Benghazi -- before, during and after the slaughter there.

Like the layers of an onion, all the administration's misleading statements about Benghazi are now being peeled away one by one, perhaps not as fast as it can change them but fast enough so that anyone who still cares about the truth can go back and see what they were -- only cover stories. One after the other:

--Even as she stood by as the remains of the four dead Americans as they were brought home, our secretary of state blamed the assault that killed them on a "mob" inflamed by a sacrilegious video that, we find out, had nothing to do with it.

--The next day, any and all evidence that might cast doubt on Hillary Clinton's official version of events at Benghazi were purged from the talking points distributed by the White House and State Department to their official flacks and hacks. Like the fact that the State Department had been repeatedly warned about threats to our diplomatic posts across North Africa but took no action to defend our people in Benghazi, despite their urgent requests. Any references to the terrorists who killed them having ties to al-Qaida went down the memory hole, too. (That terrorist network was supposed to be on the run, at least according to the president's re-election campaign.)

--The day after that, there came what may have been the most wretched excess of official falsifying since Tricky Dick himself was trying to explain away Watergate. Our distinguished ambassador to the United Nations, the Hon. Susan Rice, was all over television blaming the attacks at Benghazi on some fictive mob incensed by that amateur video and not on a premeditated, well-organized and brutally executed terrorist operation.

--Not just days but weeks after our diplomats and their defenders were slaughtered, the president of the United States was sticking with that story, repeating it again and again -- on "Late Night" with Dave Letterman, during television appearances with friendly interviewers (on Univision and "The View"), and, of course, before the United Nations, where falsehoods are always welcome.

--In his first statement on Benghazi, the president did tack on a line PR boilerplate about this country's not being daunted by any "act of terror," but both he and his administration studiously avoided blaming the attacks on any actual terrorists, let alone an offshoot of al-Qaida. We were all supposed to believe it was that amateurish video's fault.

How do justice to all this? How sum up this whole, carefully orchestrated series of false leads? Tom Bevan of the website RealClearPolitics did as well as anyone in his wrap-up of last week's testimony before the House Oversight Committee. He said that, though there was nothing there that a lot of us hadn't suspected, "a fair reading of the record leads to an obvious conclusion: The president and his administration clearly misled the public about what happened on Sept. 11, 2012."

. . .

To quote one congressman, South Carolina's Trey Gowdy, on Ambassador Rice's now embarrassing appearances on television network after television network, her comments "perpetuated a demonstrably false narrative." But she was just being used by the higher-ups covering their own trail. Or as the CIA's James Clapper said, "She was going on what we were giving her."

He felt no need to go into detail, like why Ms. Rice was being given this cover story and told to repeat it. You don't think it had anything to do with that presidential re-election campaign going on at the time, do you? If the truth had outed then instead of now, it would have blown apart Barack Obama's pose as the great terror-fighter who not only had killed Osama bin Laden but had pretty much destroyed al-Qaida itself -- even while that terrorist network was multiplying into branches, cells and agents all over the world, not excluding Benghazi, Libya and Boston, Massachusetts.

. . .

The real heroes, like the diplomats who were cut down at their post, and those who have now become whistleblowers, knew better from the first. To quote one of them, Gregory Hicks, his reaction to Ambassador Rice's televised and re-televised account of events was immediate: "I was stunned. My jaw dropped." For he knew "there was no report from the U.S. mission in Libya regarding a demonstration" and no spontaneous protest against that infamous video. As he told the committee, "The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya."

And what happened when Mr. Hicks questioned why such an obviously false story was being spread by the administration? What was the response from his superiors? Shut up, they explained. And when he didn't, he was effectively demoted. Now he's just a desk officer. Retribution is mine, saith this administration. And nothing seems to offend it like the truth.

Such is the way our secretary of state treats honest men and real patriots. Or as Our Lady of Benghazi shrieked when someone dared ask her a direct question about Benghazi: What difference at this point does it make?

None at all, except perhaps to those of us who care about a little detail known as the truth.

(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

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