Before the nation even learned the full extent of an attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, Republicans raced to politicize this tragedy. GOP presidential candidate Romney released a much maligned — and entirely discredited — statement claiming President Obama “sympathize[d] with those who waged the attacks.” A month later, Romney received an embarrassing live fact check during the second presidential debate after he falsely claimed that the president did not label the attack an “act of terror” the day after it occurred.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took this effort to politicize the attacks to a new level, claiming it was “either cover-up or the worst kind of incompetence”, worse even than the scandal that forced President Nixon to resign:
MCCAIN: Also, by the way, he said he immediately ordered action to be taken, no action was taken over seven hours. Now we find out the Secretary of Defense decided not to take any action. You know what, somebody the other day said to me that this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or an incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people.
Similar statements were made by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on other shows, all focused on the Defense Department’s supposed inaction.
The new GOP claims of cover-up are part of a long-line of attempts to label the shifting narrative as a policy failure. These latest claims build on a Fox News ‘exclusive’ that the CIA was denied a request to aid in countering the assault, while watching the attack in “real-time.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that intelligence on the ground during the assault in Benghazi was not clear enough to warrant sending U.S. forces potentially into harms way.
Yet this new line of attack is unlikely to prove any more grounded in reality than previous ones. Indeed, even former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice tried to hit the brakes on the idea that the Obama Administration reacted improperly to the attack, telling Fox News earlier this week that “it’s probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work” rather than “jump to conclusions about what might have happened here.”