I am somewhat surprised and frustrated to read reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was responsible for removing references to Al-Qaeda from the unclassified talking points about the Benghazi attack that Ambassador Susan Rice and other officials used in the early days after September 11, 2012. I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events in Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them – including the Director of National Intelligence himself – told us that they did not know who made the changes. Now we have to read the answers to our questions in the media. There are many other questions that remain unanswered. But this latest episode is another reason why many of us are so frustrated with, and suspicious of, the actions of this Administration when it comes to the Benghazi attack.First, note that McCain is no longer complaining about Susan Rice—instead he's complaining about why Al-Qaeda wasn't included in the talking points she received. McCain will never admit it, but whether he intended it or not, with this statement he's basically accepting the fact that Susan Rice accurately conveyed the information given to her by intelligence agencies. So in that sense, score one for Susan Rice.
Second, don't forget that the issue here isn't whether or not Rice (and her talking points) acknowledged that extremists carried out the attacks—it's whether she (or they) knowingly withheld information that Al-Qaeda specifically was behind the attack. As I already mentioned, the logic of McCain's statement lets Rice off the hook—McCain is accepting that the briefing she was given did not identify Al Qaeda as the perpetrator of the attack.
McCain, however, will never acknowledge that even by his own standards, Susan Rice did nothing wrong. So let's not forget that despite McCain's rhetoric, Rice clearly and unambiguously said that extremists were central to the attack—and said that Al Qaeda may have played a key role.
I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.Probably the best thing you can say about McCain's attacks on Rice and her talking points is that they are just plain dumb. In fact, the only thing about them that makes any sense to me is that they create an issue that McCain's buddy Lindsey Graham can use back home in South Carolina when he gets challenged in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary. And maybe it'll work. One thing we know about GOP primaries is this: stupid sells.