Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Coverup on Benghazi does make a difference

Originally printed in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 6, 2014

Fifteen months ago, I asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton why she hadn't simply picked up the phone and talked to the Benghazi survivors to find out what had actually happened. Instead of being straightforward, she deflected this uncomfortable question with a now-infamous question of her own: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

The answer to that question and the motive behind this administration's lies and coverup are finally becoming quite clear. The belated release of a Sept. 14, 2012, talking points email from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes proves that senior White House officials were fully engaged in directing the coverup and perpetuating the lies.

According to the Rhodes email, the goal of the administration's Benghazi spin was "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." This was in spite of the fact that within hours of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, the administration knew — or certainly should have known — there was no protest.

So why did the administration lie to America?

Because the truth would have damaged President Barack Obama's re-election chances and further revealed Clinton's dereliction of duty that contributed to the unnecessary deaths of four brave Americans. She fully understood her culpability in the Benghazi tragedy, which is why she reacted so testily to my reasonable line of questioning.

The outrages surrounding the Benghazi attack involve administration action, or lack of action, before, during and after the attack.

The greatest outrages occurred before the attack. The State Department not only failed to honor repeated requests for additional security but instead actually reduced security in Libya. Although no one can say with certainty, I firmly believe a relatively small contingent of armed military guards would have prevented the attack, and those four lives would not have been lost.

The outrageous act of omission during the attack was that no additional defensive or offensive military assets were immediately dispatched to help the endangered personnel in Benghazi. Although it is true that no intervention to save the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens or diplomat Sean Smith was possible, I do not believe the same can be said with certainty concerning U.S. personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who also were killed that night.

No one could know with certainty that the survivors would be able to get to the airport and be safely evacuated within 12 hours. What if they had encountered resistance en route to the airport? There were military assets in Croatia that could have arrived within the 12-hour window it took the survivors to reach safety. Didn't the administration feel obligated to deploy every asset available until the moment the survivors were safe?

Finally, there are the outrageous lies and coverups after the attack. There were many, but I want to concentrate on one: Clinton's comments to Woods' father at the moment she should have been demonstrating only genuine compassion.

Imagine yourself in her role, honoring the remains of four brave Americans who had given their lives for their country. Would you have taken that moment to offer sincere condolences and to grieve with the families? Or would you have seized the opportunity to plant and perpetuate the coverup of your dereliction of duty?

In the words of Woods' father, Clinton did the latter: "Hillary Clinton came up to me and I gave her a handshake and a hug, and when I shook her hand, she said to me, 'We are going to have the filmmaker arrested.' Even at that time, she was trying to place a spin on what happened."

What difference does it make? I'll let my fellow Americans judge for themselves.

Ron Johnson, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator for Wisconsin.