Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol On The Benghazi Hearing Wednesday
HH: In some of the most memorable Congressional testimony since Oliver North was sworn in the Iran-Contra hearings, or maybe Alexander Butterfield before the Watergate Committee in the Senate, three witnesses appeared before the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee today, and their testimony was explosive. Joining me to talk about it, Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Bill, before I nominate what I think is the most important things we have learned from today, what do you think are?
BK: I’ll defer to you on this, because you may have watched all of it, and I’ve only been able to watch some of it. I would say for me, though, that we need more testimony from more witnesses. I mean, there’s one person who can explain who exactly told Susan Rice to tell manifest falsehoods on national television five days after the terrorist attack, and that’s Susan Rice. There’s one person who can say whether she did in fact say to Greg Hicks what Greg Hicks says, and that’s Beth Jones, the assistant secretary of State, or Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff. So I think the predicate has minimally, minimally, the predicate has been laid for further hearings where we really need to see, to unravel this cover-up, and who ordered it, and who participated in it.
HH: Now I think Speaker Boehner ought to come out today and announce the formation of a select committee. Here is the key bit of opening testimony by Mr. Hicks, number two in Libya until the murder of Ambassador Stevens, and then number one. Play cut number one, please.
GH: I think at about 2pm, 2am, sorry, the Secretary called, Secretary of State Clinton called me, and along with her senior staff, were all on the phone. And she asked me what was going on, and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi. And I told her that we would need to evacuate. And she said that was the right thing to do.
HH: Now Bill Kristol, a couple of things. One, we need to have the names of everyone who was on that call. I believe the NSA would have recorded that call, even if the State Department didn’t, and we need the tape of that call. But it is obvious from 2am in the morning, Benghazi time forward, that the United States knew this wasn’t a demonstration, they’d been briefed by the charge d’affairs and they’re evacuating Benghazi, there is no demonstration underway.
BK: Right, and I think he also testified, didn’t he, that Beth Jones, who probably was on that call, who’s the assistant secretary of State for that region, so she would have been the obvious person to have on the call, one of the obvious ones to have on the call with the Secretary, said, wrote an email the next day that Ansar al-Sharia, the al Qaeda affiliated group in Libya, was, had been key to this attack on the consulate.
BK: So I mean, so just think of that. Just think of that for a minute. The Secretary of State, then-Secretary of State, they know what happened. And they either sit quietly or actively participate as their colleagues at the most senior levels of the administration go on about a YouTube video, including the president of the United States, incidentally, two weeks later. I mean, it really is, I mean, you know, the Weekly Standard has been slightly obsessed with this story for eight months, and Steve Hayes has done wonderful reporting, and Tom Joscelyn, and I’ve read probably more about it than 99.9% of Americans. But when it comes home in that way, that the brazenness of the lying, if I can just use that word, is really, I don’t know, it’s shocking.
HH: It’s startling.
BK: Yeah, it’s really startling.
HH: And here’s the other thing. It’s an overseas phone call, though, and so I am absolutely, I’m not absolutely certain. I’m 99% certain that that National Security Agency will have in its vast digital files the actual conducting of that call, the real things that were said. We can listen to it. Is that, would that be your impression, Bill Kristol?
BK: You know, I’m not sure, but of course, the other people on the call either did have high office, or are still in high office, many of them confirmed by the United States Senate. They’ve got to testify. I mean, this is I guess, I started off by saying this, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but for me, this is the heart of this. We cannot have a one-off hearing here, be outraged for a day or two, and then well, I guess there’s not much more we can learn. There is more we can learn. The United States Congress, The United States Senate confirms these appointees. Their departments, they authorize, they appropriate funds for the departments. They have the right to call these witnesses, witnesses about whom testimony has been provided today, to ask the witness is that accurate or is that not accurate. So if there’s of course a tape or a transcript of the call, all the better. But I just think the need for follow up here is what strikes me the most.
HH: And here is the follow up, the second cut that stands out of everything I have heard today, and I have heard a lot of it, not all of it, because at first, I had to listen online, because it kept cutting out. And incredibly, CNN stayed in a parking lot outside of Cleveland for most of the hearing.
BK: Well, and Fox did not carry it live for much of it, incidentally.
HH: I know. They cut in and out of it. It was very annoying.
HH: Here is a key exchange between Jim Jordan, Congressman from Ohio, and Mr. Hicks about Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Clinton’s major domo.
JJ: Is that accurate?
GH: Yes, sir.
HH: And tell me about those conversations, what those lawyers instructed you to do on Mr. Chaffetz’ visit to Libya.
GH: I was instructed not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission and myself to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz.
JJ: So the people at State told you don’t talk to the guy who’s coming to investigate?
GH: Yes, sir.
JJ: Said don’t talk with the Congressman? Now you’ve had several Congressional delegations come to various places you’ve been around the world. Has that ever happened where lawyers get on the phone to you prior to a Congressional delegation coming to investigate a time when we’ve had four Americans lose their lives, have you ever had anyone tell you don’t talk with the people from Congress coming to find out what took place?
JJ: Never. And you’ve had dozens and dozens of Congressional delegations that you’ve been a part of.
GH: Yes, sir.
JJ: First time it’s ever happened?
GH: Yes, sir.
JJ: Tell me about, and also, isn’t it true that one of those lawyers on the phone call accompanied the folks on the delegation and tried to be in every single meeting you had with Mr. Chaffetz and the delegation from this Committee?
GH: Yes, sir. That’s true.
JJ: Tell me what happened when you got a classified briefing with Mr. Chaffetz? What happened and the phone call that happened after that?
GH: The lawyer was excluded from the meeting, because his clearance was not high enough. And the delegation had insisted that the briefing not be limited by any…
JJ: Did the lawyer try to get in that briefing?
GH: He tried, yes, but the annex chief would not allow it, because the briefing needed to be at the appropriate level of clearance.
HH: It goes on. Do we have the rest of it where Cheryl Mills calls? Okay, well Cheryl Mills then calls, Bill Kristol, Mr. Hicks and berates him for not allowing this lawyer into the meeting, and delivers instructions that he not to talk to anyone else. That is by definition obstruction.
BK: Yeah, no, I was thinking as I was listening to that tape, you were in the White House Counsel’s Office, I was Vice President Quayle’s chief of staff a few years after that. I mean, I can’t even imagine, actually, having that kind of conversation from the White House or from the Department of State to a civil servant, telling him, in effect, not to be candid with a Congressman, or not to be forthcoming to a Congressman. I mean, it is not, well again, we need to have hearings, and we need to expose, and that was only one, this Mr. Hicks is only one player in this episode. And for me, I come back, also, to the talking points, which Steve Hayes has written about, and you’ve discussed with him and with me on the air. Who was in the Saturday meeting at the White House, that basically invented, wrote the talking points for Susan Rice, and which governed the administration’s narrative over the next ten days? Who was in that meeting? Some of those people were White House staff. I guess it’s hard to get them up to testify on the Hill. Some were State Department and other places where they are appropriate witnesses in Congressional hearings. And I think, if I were John Boehner or Darrell Issa or anyone in the House of Representatives, I would want to know who was at that meeting, what was said, how were these talking points written. Can you believe, incidentally, Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, saying that the changes in the talking points, the ones that are reproduced in Steve Hayes’ article, were, what did he say, stylistic and not…
HH: Stylistic. Stylistic as in a limited, modified hang out…
HH: …That’s what Nixon used to call it. Now I keep going back, though, and you’re right. If you can imagine the number, the principal aide to the Secretary of State berating the chief of mission, and a survivor of a terrorist attack, and demanding a report on the visit and upset that her lawyer was excluded from a meeting, it’s a clear intimidation of a whistleblower. And there was lots of that today. I don’t know if you saw the Democrats serially interrupt and grandstand, Bill Kristol, but it was, I mean, Elijah Cummings is an embarrassment to the United States of America for how he treated Mr. Hicks.
BK: No, it’s pathetic that they would carry water for the administration in that way, make themselves complicit, in a sense, in the attempt to continue the cover up. But on your point, you’re absolutely right about the, I mean, why would have, think about, put it this way. Why is Cheryl Mills making these phone calls? If it was a tragedy that happened, if cues and signals were missed, if decisions were made poorly, even, in the heat of a terrible crisis, no one would ever, everyone understand yes, the system didn’t work as well as it should have, but no one would actually, you know, that would, we would all move on, because we would have an appropriate after action review, we would try to fix the system, and people would understand that you know, these were judgment calls made at 2am, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world. But you would not be scared of having the truth come out.
HH: No, you wouldn’t.
BK: I mean,
HH: You wouldn’t. Absolutely not.
BK: The terror at having the truth come out, for me, is what’s so striking about what came out in the hearings today. And what does that tell us?
HH: Yeah, it tells us we need more hearings. We need a select committee, and I hope John Boehner figures that out. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, thank you.
End of interview.