WH: Obama Called Hillary on Night of Benghazi Attack--More Than Six Hours After It Started

Fred Lucas | February 20, 2013 | 11:25am EST
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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at approximately 10 p.m. on the night of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told CNSNews.com.

That was more than six hours after the attacks started, more than an hour before Tryone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed--and about the time that Clinton first released a statement linking the attacks to “inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” a reference to an anti-Muslim video on YouTube.

“Like every president before him, he has a national security adviser and deputy national security adviser,” Carney told CNSNews.com on Tuesday. “He was in regular communication with his national security team directly, through them, and spoke with the secretary of state at approximately 10 p.m. He called her to get an update on the situation.”

Carney was responding to questions from CNSNews.com about who Obama communicated with on the evening of Sept. 11, 2012. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee they first notified the president of the attack during a Sept. 11, 2012 meeting that began at 5 p.m. and ran for about 30 minutes. They also told the committee they did not talk to Obama or anyone else at the White House after that meeting.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who worked for CIA, were killed in the Benghazi attacks.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey. (AP)

That night, while the attacks were still unfolding, and before Woods and Doherty were killed, Secretary of State Clinton released a statement--entitled "Statement on the Attack in Bengazi"-- linking the attacks to an anti-Muslim video that had been posted on YouTube. “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," Clinton said. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Over the course of a week--from Jan. 8 to Jan. 15--CNSNews.com tried to get the State Department to simply say when exactly on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, the department issued this statement. The State Department would not respond. CNSNews.com called again Tuesday to inquire what time the statement was released. The State Department again did not respond.

However, the Associated Press confirmed to CNSNews.com that at 10:58 p.m. Eastern time that night, it ran a story quoting from Clinton's statement linking the Benghazi attacks to “inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” Also, FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, has reported that the State Department released Clinton's statement "about 10:00 p.m."--which is when Carney tells CNSNews.com Obama phoned Clinton.

FactCheck.org also pointed out that MSNBC posted a Reuters story at 10:32 p.m. that night, which quoted Clinton's statement linking the Benghazi attacks to "inflammatory material posted on the Internet."

The Benghazi attacks later were determined to have nothing to do with a protest over the YouTube video--although administration officials, including the president, continued to make that inference for days after the attacks.

During her Jan. 23 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton stated she spoke with Obama the night of the attack, but did not say what time.

"I was notified of the attack shortly after 4 p.m. Over the following hours we were in continuous meetings and conversations, both within the department, with our team in Tripoli, with the interagency and internationally,” Clinton said. Given that Clinton was notified shortly after 4:00 p.m. of the Benghazi attack, she knew it was going on for about an hour before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta notified the president.

Clinton went on to say, “So it was a constant ongoing discussion and sets of meetings. I spoke with President Obama later in the evening to, you know, bring him up to date, to hear his perspective. Obviously, we kept talking with everyone during the night. Early in the morning on the 12th I spoke with General Dempsey, again with [National Security Adviser] Tom Donilon.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. (AP)

On Tuesday, CNSNews.com emailed White House Press Secretary Carney follow-up questions about the Obama-Clinton 10:00 p.m. telephone call on Sept. 11. “Did the president and Sec. Clinton discuss the statement she was about to issue?" CNSNews.com asked. "And did they discuss the issue of ‘inflammatory material posted on the Internet?’”

Carney did not directly answer either question. Instead, he responded,  “At about 10 pm, the President called Secretary Clinton to get an update on the situation.”

CNSNews.com also asked Carney about the Senate testimony of Panetta and Dempsey: “Panetta and Dempsey said after they were finished with the 5:30 meeting--the meeting from 5 to 5:30--that they weren’t in contact with the White House.”

This photo, which was published in the Bureau of Diplomatic Securities annual report for 2011, shows then-Special Envoy Chris Stevens in Benghazi on April 11, six days after he landed there in a Greek cargo ship. The caption in the annual report says Stevens is speaking "to local media in Benghazi," and identifies the man behind and to his right as a DS officer, although it does not name him. (State Dept. photo)

Carney responded, “No. They didn’t say that. They said they hadn’t spoken with the president. The president has a National Security Advisor as has every president before him dating back many, many presidencies. He has a deputy national security adviser and remember he had already spoken with and met with in person and discussed ongoing attack in Benghazi with the secretary of defense, with the chairman of the joint chiefs. He then spoke with the secretary of state because after all, it was a diplomatic facility that was attacked and at that point, we were getting information that American lives had been lost. I think that answers your question.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 7, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R.-N.H.) asked Panetta: “Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?”

“No,” said Panetta.

Carney stressed that the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB)--chaired by retired Admiral Mike Mullen and retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering--said, that the administration’s response was adequate.

“Let me say again, the ARB report specifically notes that the interagency cooperation that evening was ‘timely and appropriate,’” Carney said. “Maybe CNS is challenging the credibility of Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering. Probably, but I don’t know.”

Carney went on to read from page 37 of the report that said, “The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.”

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