Watergate defines the vocabulary for American political scandals, and so it was no surprise that former Obama-administration communications operative Anita Dunn took to the airwaves yesterday morning to pour derision upon the notion that a “smoking gun” has been uncovered in the form of recently released e-mails documenting the White House’s disinformation campaign following the Benghazi attack. A dozen Democrats have asked, “Where’s the scandal?” But the question here is not whether the administration’s misleading statements in the wake of the attacks on U.S. installations in Egypt and Libya are a political scandal in the style of President Nixon’s infamous burglary; they aren’t. But that the administration’s misdeeds here seem to fall short of felony burglary hardly makes the matter a less serious one: The White House misled the American public about a critical matter of national interest, and it continues to practice deceit as the facts of the case are sorted out. That, to answer Hillary Clinton’s callous question, is what difference it makes.
The Benghazi dishonesty did not end with Susan Rice’s now-infamous 2012 Sunday-show storytelling circuit, in which she blamed the attack on an Internet video that Muslims found insulting but that in fact had nothing to do with what was an organized jihadist attack. Last week, press secretary Jay Carney managed to annoy the usually pliant White House press corps with his embarrassing attempt to explain away the withholding of documents sought by Congress, saying that the e-mails in question were not about Benghazi, despite the fact that there is a section thereof titled “Benghazi.” He has labeled investigation into the matter evidence of a “conspiracy theory.” It is nothing of the sort, and getting a picture of the administration’s failures and dishonesty in the matter requires no leap of logic or supposition of unknown forces at work.