Mark I. Thompson, the acting deputy assistant for operations in the State Department's counterterrorism bureau, will testify on Wednesday that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton willfully blocked out his department's involvement on the night of the September 11 Benghazi attacks — and that he has been threatened and intimidated by unnamed State Department officials about saying as much in public, and that al-Qaeda was involved all along. The scoop comes from — where else? — sources close to the congressional investigation speaking to Fox News, two days ahead of testimony by Thompson and two other whistleblower witnesses before Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Fox's sources characterize Thompson has having "concluded on Sept. 11 that Clinton and Kennedy tried to cut the counterterrorism bureau out of the loop as they and other Obama administration officials weighed how to respond to — and characterize — the Benghazi attacks."
That charge would seem to suggest that the State Department's actions that night last summer came straight from the top and allegedly without input from Thompson's Counterterrorism Security Group at Foggy Bottom. As CBS News reports, we know that the Obama administration "did not convene its top interagency counterterrorism resource, the Counterterrorism Security Group." And since a certain segment of Issa's Washington is (still) looking back and (still) trying to figure out what went wrong when the American diplomatic mission was attacked, one of the big questions heading into Wednesday's hearing is whether or not CSG involvement would have made a difference. As The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin insists, the two other witnesses — a regional State Department security officer in Libya and a former department deputy chair of the mission — could send the affair "into a whole different level of scandal."
But remember that this is very much an after-the-fact whistleblower affair, to the point where President Obama refuses to really acknowledge a string of Fox reports about the testimony during his press conference last week. And Thompson's claims about willful ignorance at the top levels of the State Department will not go without questioning. According to a National Security Council spokesman who spoke on the record with CBS, Thompson's group was involved: "From the moment the president was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in governments. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses," the spokesperson, Tommy Vietor, told CBS. The network also spoke to a source in CSG who didn't exactly rebuke Vietor's claim but did say that only the top officials in the executive branch were convened about the matter — and that their top counterterrorism experts were not active decision makers.
Perhaps the most important part in the claims going on the record this week is whether or not CSG would have actually made a difference in the attack. Fox's James Rosen brings it all back to those much much debated Benghazi talking points, suggesting that Clinton's alleged ignorance of the CSG has ties to some sort of al-Qaeda cover-up:
Documents from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, first published in the May 13 edition of "The Weekly Standard," showed that senior officials from those agencies decided within days of the attacks to delete all references to Al Qaeda's known involvement in them from "talking points" being prepared for those administration officers being sent out to discuss the attacks publicly.
The administration later acknowledged that there had been no such protest, as evidence mounted that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists had participated in the attacks. The latter conclusion had figured prominently in the earliest CIA drafts of the talking points, but was stricken by an ad hoc group of senior officials controlling the drafting process. Among those involved in prodding the deletions, the documents published by "The Weekly Standard" show, was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who wrote at one point that the revisions were not sufficient to satisfy "my building's leadership."
Being connected to those talking points — and the argument of whether or not there was a protest — was a major reason Susan Rice withdrew her name as the next Secretary of State. Before she left foggy bottom, Clinton said her piece before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. But the focus of ongoing Benghazi analysis from dogged oversight groups like Issa's is now clearly turning back to spin from the Obama administration — and striking off al-Qaeda references could be seen as a way back into allegations of a cover up over an issue that the administration has repeatedly said it's taken care of, and that has already sent Rubin into a euphoric tizzy. According to CNN, unnamed senior U.S. law officials say that al-Qaeda was involved in the attack.
During her Benghazi in January Clinton stressed that anything that was done in the wake of the attacks was done in the heat of the moment:
It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. But the fact is that people were trying in real time to get the best information….But, you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.
The other factor in Thompson's testimony will be determining whether or not the State Department tried to silence him:
Thompson's lawyer, Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney, has further alleged that his client has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress.
That would be disconcerting, but diGenova did elaborate to Fox. And the State Department called the claims "100 percent false."