Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chair: Obama Talked to Them Only Once on Night of Benghazi Attack

February 7, 2013 - 1:09 PM

Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- Under questioning by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R.-N.H.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) in the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that they spoke to President Barack Obama only once on the evening of Sept. 11, 2012, when the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya were under attack by terrorists.

Panetta and Dempsey had a pre-scheduled meeting with Obama at 5:00 p.m. Washington, D.C. time on Sept. 11. The meeting lasted about thirty minutes. After it was over, they did not hear from Obama again or anybody else at the White House.

"Did you have any further communications with him that night?" Ayotte asked Panetta.

"No," said Panetta.

"Did you have any other further communications? Did he ever call you that night to say how are things going, what’s going on, where’s the consulate?" asked Ayotte.

"No," said Panetta. "But we were aware as we were getting information about what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost, we were aware that that information went to the White House."

"Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?" asked Ayotte.

"No," said Panetta.

"No one else called you to say: How are things going?" asked Ayotte.

"No," said Panetta.

A Defense Department timeline says that Panetta and Dempsey had been informed of the terrorist attack in Benghazi at 4:32 p.m--28 minutes before they went into their meeting with Obama. At today's hearing, Panetta said he informed Obama of the attack when they entered their 5:00 p.m. meeting. That was one hour and 18 minutes after the attack started and while it was ongoing.

Gen. Dempsey told Sen. Graham that the 5:00 p.m. meeting with Obama lasted about a half hour. According to DOD, an unarmed drone arrived over the Benghazi mission at 5:10 p.m., while Panetta and Dempsey were in the White House meeting with the president.

Shortly after Sen. Ayotte questioned Panetta and Obama about their one conversation with Obama on the night of Sept. 11, Sen. Graham followed up to verify that the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not talk to Obama on the night of the attack except in their one half hour meeting.

According to a CIA timeline provided by a senior intelligence official, as well as to the account of the events of Sept. 11, 2012 reported in the State Department Accountability Review Board report, there were two phases to the terrorist attacks on U.S. personnel in Benghazi.

The initial phase ran from 3:42 p.m. Washington, D.C., when the terrorists first stormed the State Department's Benghazi compound, time until 7:00 p.m. Washington, D.C. time. There was a break in the attacks that lasted for four about four hours and fifteen minutes, until approximately 11:15 p.m. Washington, D.C., time. Then the terrorists launched another attack that lasted about 11 minutes, until 11:26 p.m. Washington, D.C. time--or until about six hours and 26 minutes after Panetta had informed the president the attacks under way and he and Gen. Dempsey had their one conversation with the president about them.

The initial phase of terrorist attacks occurred at the State Department's Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, on the road from that compound to the CIA Annex, and at the CIA Annex itself. The second phase of attack that started at 11:15 p.m. Washington time targeted the CIA Annex.

Amb. Chris Stevens and State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith were killed in the first phase of attacks at the State Department compound. Former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who worked for the CIA, were killed in the final phase at the CIA Annex.

The terrorists killed Woods and Doherty almost six hours after Panetta and Dempsey ended their one meeting of the day with President Obama and had their last conversation with him or anyone else on the White House staff.