The Benghazi Truthers and the OLC Hold-Outs

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 8.41.25 AMDianne Feinstein announced yesterday that the Senate Intelligence Committee would not, as originally planned, vote on John Brennan’s nomination today. No Valentine’s Day love for Brennan I guess.

DiFi cited outstanding questions on Benghazi and the 7 OLC memos the White House has withheld.

That’s important background to this Joshua Hersh story, which makes fun of Richard Burr (who had just made a joke about his relative Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton) grilling Jack Lew about who briefed Obama on Benghazi the night of the attack. As Hersh points out, the White House has released a picture showing Denis McDonough briefing the President that day, which ought to answer Burr’s question.

What Hersh doesn’t say is that Burr specifically asked Lew whether Brennan was in this loop. In the closed session on Tuesday, apparently, Brennan said he wasn’t. This comes on top of the White House withholding — at least as of last Thursday — Presidential Daily Briefs and some emails about the response to Benghazi as it unfolded.

Now, Lew’s role in Benghazi briefings really won’t affect his job as Treasury Secretary. But Brennan’s role might, particularly if the Murdoch boosted eBook alleging he was running ops in Libya out of the White House is true (I’m not saying it is).

In any case, the persistence of the Benghazi truthers has introduced an interesting dynamic I didn’t expect. Of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, only Susan Collins and possibly Tom Coburn are not full-on Benghazi truthers (and James Inhofe, who gets a vote if he wants one as Armed Services Committee Ranking member, could add another truther vote).

But Collins is part of the other group — along with at least Ron Wyden and Mark Udall — holding up Brennan’s nomination, those demanding the 7 OLC memos on targeted killing the White House has thus far refused to turn over to the Committee purportedly overseeing these killings. That puts the vote somewhere in the vicinity of 9 votes holding out for something from the White House, 6 votes ready to vote Brennan’s nomination forward.

So who will the White House cede to? The Benghazi truthers, or the OLC holdouts? And is what is in the material the White House has thus far withheld enough for these groups to vote against Brennan?

Note, there’s always the possibility these groups will converge. The public record supports the conclusion that Libyan militants in Derna claimed to have been struck or at least surveilled by a drone. Those militants have ties, at least, to the militants who carried out the attack on the Benghazi post, and the public record also supports the claim the militants were avenging that drone surveillance or strike.  If that drone was approved by an unknown memo authorizing continued strikes in Libya, it would be something that both the Benghazi truthers and the OLC holdouts would be interested in.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    I think it is unfair to refer to the two former special ops guys who wrote the e-book as Truthers because as soon as you use the word Truther, you discredit them. They are not the ones obsessing about who briefed Obama. Neither of them seem to be right-wingers either, though Harper Collins is owned by NewsCorp. I think they deserve a hearing. The main reason they wrote the book, it seems, is that their close friend, Doherty, was one of the guys killed at Benghazi trying to defend, after he went there with a team from Tripoli, and they wanted to know what happened. According to them, they started investigating it themselves soon after the Benghazi attack, which was before anyone ever mentioned Brennan getting nominated for director of CIA.

  2. Joshua Hersh says:

    Thanks, Marcy. My only point of contention here is that Benghazi Truthers in their purest form would actually have little interest in whatever findings there might be on covert actions in Eastern Libya. What they want — and what Burr was chiefly after in that line of questioning yesterday — is a way to link the attacks back to the president, and to make it about a political failing on his part.

    There is a much smaller subset of holdouts on the Hill who want more information about Benghazi because they are actually interested in the black ops that appear to have been taking place there, and thus want to do their jobs of oversight. Those guys are doing the same meritorious job as the people holding up Brennan over OLC memos, but in the case of Benghazi at least, they’re becoming harder to distinguish from the nonsense-seekers.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: Where do I call them truthers? All I say is Murdoch’s rags are pushing it. That is true (though not all of them are–WSJ and Weekly Standard are not).

  4. emptywheel says:

    @Joshua Hersh: I’m actually not sure if that’s entirely true of Burr (though I agree it is true of Coats and Rubio).

    Every question he asked was a valid question. He laid out that Brennan’s claims to have opposed torture are wrong (Burr is doing that for opposite reason I’d do it–he wants his torture buddies in CIA to have leverage over Brennan, though it is a valid point). He laid out evidence that Brennan is a serial leaker, which he is. And he appears to have questions on Benghazi.

    Sure, ultimately he is more interested in showing that Obama could be doing the equiv of what Ronnie did w/Iran-Contra for leverage, not because he thinks it’s wrong (though he will also show how Stevens died as part of that careless effort). But if there is one place where too FEW questions have been asked about Benghazi, it is at the nexus between the NSC and the intelligence community.

  5. PeasantParty says:

    I’m probably wrong about this, but I keep thinking about the Lisa Monaco bargain. The one where she tells that the OLC and memo release will come AFTER Brennan is placed into office and she takes his place.

    Yes, I believe Brennan was using drones in Libya. Yes, I believe he did so for many reasons, one of them being banking secrets. The reason that the grab for a reason GOP keeps up the Benghazi stuff is simply due to hurting Dems. They could care less about the truth or humanitarian reasons.

  6. joanneleon says:

    @emptywheel: Well, when you use the term Benghazi Truthers, are you just referring to a few Senators or are you referring to the various groups of people looking for more information about it? My bad if you were just talking about some Senators.

    After rereading this paragraph it looks like that term is applied only to one faction of Senators re: the nomination. On my first reading, I interpreted it as meaning that everyone who is looking for more detail on the Benghazi attack is a Benghazi Truther.
    “So who will the White House cede to? The Benghazi truthers, or the OLC holdouts? And is what is in the material the White House has thus far withheld enough for these groups to vote against Brennan?”

  7. emptywheel says:

    @joanneleon: Hey, I’ve asked questions about Benghazi, which is how I know the militia in Derna was threatening to attack the US and has ties to the militants in Benghazi.

    So no, I’m not saying asking questions about Benghazi makes one a truther. But a lot (maybe not even all) of the GOPers asking questions are trying to stir up a scandal.

    Though FWIW, the one place where more questions should have been asked some time ago is about the nexus between NSC and CIA. That is, BRennan. We just don’t know what they asked in closed hearing Tuesday, so can’t assess whether it was bullshit or valid.

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