Big scandals from little leaks grow. Watergate was at first only “a third-rate burglary.” Bubba thought he was only trying to cover up the details of a failed real-estate scheme down on the White River. Humiliation, resignation and even an impeachment followed.
History warns presidents that second terms are never Sunday picnics, and the unfolding — exploding is more accurate — of the story of what really happened on a violent night in Benghazi, Libya, and the days that followed is Barack Obama’s introduction to his next four years. We probably ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Nearly everyone suspects that Mr. Obama, trying to avoid questions about the mishandling of Benghazi, was running out the clock, hoping to stumble past the election before being overtaken by facts and hard reality. Some of the congressional Republicans are talking bravely now about getting to the bottom of the sordid story, and the Democrats give every sign of attempting to squelch and evade: let’s move on, nothing to see here.
But maybe there is something to see. The press had no interest in the Benghazi story when it could have been the campaign show-stopper, but now some of stars of print and screen are slowly coming out of their self-induced coma. Sex makes any story irresistible, even to pompous hacks and blowhards. The resignation of Gen. David H. Petraeus was treated at first as driven by illicit and undisciplined passion to astonishing indiscretion, a good man seduced as men have been seduced since Eve tempted Adam with a Golden Delicious. Why else would a four-star general, the chief of the nation’s spies, correspond with his mistress by email? As juicy as all that is, the story is leading inevitably and inexorably back to Benghazi.
Maybe the general and his paramour shared more than titillating pillow talk. The Wall Street Journal reports that FBI investigators discovered classified documents on the paramour’s computer. Where did Paula Broadwell get them? And now the account surfaces of a speech Mrs. Broadwell made at the University of Denver on Oct. 26 in which she revealed the news that the CIA had been holding two terrorist prisoners at the consulate and the attack was an attempt by terrorists to rescue them. Where did she get this information? Was she making stuff up to sell her book or did she inadvertently spill a state secret coaxed from a lover?
The CIA says that story is not true, and maybe it isn’t, but you would expect the CIA to deny it even if it were.
We’re asked to believe 11 impossible things before breakfast, and a half-dozen more after lunch, and in the absence of a coherent explanation we get speculation and surmise from people who may or may not know what they’re talking about. The true story, leaking slowly in dribs and drabs, goes beyond a catfight over the affections of a general, or a turf war between the FBI and the CIA.
We’re asked to believe that the FBI investigation into the general’s affair, with its enormous national-security implications, was conducted over a period of weeks and the president was never told anything about it until Mr. Petraeus submitted his resignation. A half-dozen government agencies, in this fanciful telling of the story, treated the president as if he were a virgin in a bordello, all to preserve his “innocence” in the final weeks of a bitter election campaign. If the president didn’t know what was going on upstairs, this is incompetence bordering on criminal malfeasance.
With no facts, we have only the tangled web of lies in the changing official stories. Was the general intimidated — if not blackmailed — into joining the president, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in their ridiculous story, told over and over, that the Benghazi attack was set off by demonstrations protesting that obscure video? Mr. Petraeus supported the president’s story about the video in testimony to Congress shortly after the assassination of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. He surely knew better.
By all accounts David Petraeus was and is a man of honor and integrity, now disgraced and broken by a familiar indiscretion born of human frailty. Looking to Congress for brave men and women who can unravel this web of deceit, a web perhaps woven of high crimes and misdemeanors, is usually a fool’s errand. But Congress is all we’ve got.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.