It wasn't all about Syria on the Sunday morning public affairs talk shows.
This coming Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Rarely has such an international incident been viewed so differently by political parties. Republicans have said that the Obama administration has never fully been held to account, while most Democrats have dismissed the controversy as a phony scandal. Those feelings were articulated on Fox News Sunday in an intense exchange between the network's Karl Rove and Juan Williams.[jump]
The conversation began with Fox News' Brit Hume declaring that as a political issue, "It may remain buried and never go off. But it may blow up. We don't know, but it remains out there. There is still a lot (inaudible) about what happened that night and why and about the response to it."
Rove said that Republicans will get another bite at the apple when former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland goes before the Senate to be confirmed as assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. Nuland was a central character in the Benghazi saga.
"This is going to be a chance for Senate Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee during the nomination process to get to the heart of the matter, which is who concocted this lie to the American people, who participated knowing that it was not the video, that it was a terrorist attack and trying to sell it," Rove said. " Who briefs the U.N. ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to go out on the Sunday morning and talk some — and talk about this and I don't think this is going to go away as easily as people might think."
Williams countered that there has been an independent report assessing what went wrong in Benghazi (the State Department accepted 24 of the 29 recommendations). Let's go to the transcript for the rest of the conversation:
WILLIAMS: Another — we just make one other point. The big argument coming from Republicans for most of this time was, there was a stand down order given from Washington or from the military command that we could have gone in and saved those people, but the stand-down order was given. Well, now we have Lieutenant Colonel Gibson, who was in charge of Special Forces in Libya saying, no, no stand down order was ever given.
HUME: They just told them not to go. They didn't call it a stand down order. WILLIAMS: OK, so in other words, then, we don't have anything. A year later, we do have an indictment, and Eric Holder, the attorney general, has said more is coming shortly. But to make a scandal out of this, it really — that's why you say this is not going away. Let me tell you, this has gone away.
ROVE: No, it hasn't. The American people were lied to. Somebody concocted a deliberate lie that this was all — it was not a terrorist attack, this was a spontaneous reaction to a video that no one saw. The American people had a legitimate question, why were efforts not undertaken to save our people?
WILLIAMS: But the efforts were made.
ROVE: No, they weren't.
ROVE: With all due respect, no assets were put in motion.
ROVE: U.S. military on the ground in Tripoli were told, don't go to Benghazi.
WILLIAMS: No, no. There was no stand-down order. What we had is, don't go in after the fact when we don't know what you are getting into, and it could result in more American deaths.
ROVE: Yes, don't go. Don't go. That's the important thing. Do not go.
WILLIAMS: There is a difference, Karl, there is a huge difference.
ROVE: Remember what that Marine said, remember what he said. He said it was the first time in the history that he could remember that a member of the U.S. foreign service had more cojones than somebody in the military.
WILLIAMS: Karl, you're all in the weeds here.
ROVE: It's not in the weeds, with all due respect, Juan. It's not in the weeds.
WILLIAMS: What's in the weeds is the fact that you continue to prosecute (ph)—
ROVE: — a deliberate lie to the American people.
WILLIAMS: Stop living in the past and trying to get after Susan Rice or whoever. This has nothing to do with the death of Ambassador Stephens.
ROVE: You're right. Susan Rice or whoever. We don't know who is responsible for lying to the American people.
WILLIAMS: Nothing to do with the death of our ambassador.
ROVE: You may be comfortable, you may be comfortable with the American people being told a deliberate lie by the administration, but I'm not, and I think that we need to get to the bottom of this.
WILLIAMS: Karl, you can continue to raise your voice and —
ROVE: Why was no effort made to save those Americans?
WILLIAMS: — but it does not speak to the heart of the issue.
KURTZ: — it's not over as evidenced by the emotions at this table one year later.
HUME: And one more thing. Think of the list, I mean, going around the table here, the list of questions that remain unanswered to this day are what make this still a legitimate topic for conversation. And meanwhile, I'm sorry to say, this is simply not over.
WILLIAMS: It's gone, baby. It's in your head. That's about the only place.