The Gingerbread Man

Do you remember the tale of "The Gingerbread Man"? It's a children's story in which a gingerbread man runs away from the baker, lots of people try to catch him as he crows,  "Run, run as fast as you can/ You can't catch me I'm the gingerbread man." In the version I remember a fox finally does catch the braggart and eats him piece by piece.

This week, in defending the public statements of his UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Obama said we should come after him, not her. Pugnacious remark -- just like the gingerbread man's. Last time I recall a politician making a remark like that it was Gary Hart who challenged reporters to tail him if they thought reports of his womanizing were true. As you certainly recall, the press came after him, caught him, and his political ambitions  were dashed. This time, as I'll explain, in the absence of a properly functioning press corps, only a Congress ready and willing to pursue the truth -- even if it means impeaching the president -- can catch the gingerbread man.

As the stories of the participants vary so much on the issue of who was responsible for failing to mount a rescue operation in Benghazi and who lied to the Congress and public to hide the fact that this was a terrorist attack, not a spontaneous uprising by locals infuriated by a movie trailer, focus on what happened increased this week.

Did General David Petraeus dissemble in his September testimony to Congress? I think it obvious he did, and that he did it because he hoped if he played along he could keep his job even as evidence of his affair with Paula Broadwell was being made known to more and more people.

I believe that Charles Krauthammer was the first to come right out and say this, and events this week have proven his deduction to be on the mark:

I think the really shocking news today was that General Petraeus thought and hoped he could keep his job. He thought that it might and it would be kept secret, and that he could stay in his position. I think what that tells us is really important. It meant that he understood that the FBI obviously knew what was going on. He was hoping that those administration officials would not disclose what had happened, and therefore hoping that he would keep his job. And that meant that he understood that his job, his reputation, his legacy, his whole celebrated life was in the hands of the administration, and he expected they would protect him by keeping it quiet.

And that brings us to the ultimate issue, and that is his testimony on September 13. That's the thing that connects the two scandals, and that's the only thing that makes the sex scandal relevant. Otherwise it would be an exercise in sensationalism and voyeurism and nothing else. The reason it's important is here's a man who knows the administration holds his fate in its hands, and he gives testimony completely at variance with what the Secretary of Defense had said the day before, at variance with what he'd heard from his station chief in Tripoli, and with everything that we had heard. Was he influenced by the fact that he knew his fate was held by people within the administration at that time?"

Is there good reason for Congress to explore in depth the role of the FBI in digging through Petraeus' emails? I think there is. 

Reportedly the Petraeus involvement with Broadwell came to government attention when Jill Kelley (nee Kharwan) received what she considered to be harassing emails about her relationship with Petraeus. It appears the FBI agent involved had some sort of close relationship with Kelley and though his supervisors ascertained there was no apparent crime involved, he continued to push for an investigation, even going directly to Eric Cantor for help. He also told Kelley the source of the emails, which seems odd, an improper release of investigative findings, I should think. The question then for the FBI, according to news accounts, was whether Petraeus had anything to do with the emails. Pardon me, but the thought of the FBI riffling through the private emails of the head of the CIA in the absence of any suggestion of criminal activity seems bizarre and improper. (While there is apparently evidence that Broadwell improperly stored classified material on her computer, she did have some security clearance and the administration has indicated there is no evidence of a security breach by Petraeus.)

The FBI fandango reminds me of this exchange from Joseph Heller's "Good as Gold":

"You're vulnerable to blackmail in the interests of a foreign power by anyone who knows all the facts."

"Who knows all the facts?"

"The FBI knows all the facts."

"Is the FBI likely to blackmail me in the interests of a foreign power?"

Jill Kelley and her twin sister are certainly an oddball set of characters in this increasingly complicated and sordid tale.

Both seem to have had full run of MacDill Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Central Command. Jill exchanged about 20-30 thousand emails with General John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. They are reportedly rather spicy and the occasion of yet another FBI investigation. While both sisters seem to have spent lavishly on entertaining -- including hosting the King of Jordan and Centcom officers -- each is millions of dollars in debt.

Not a few people have expressed to me the belief that these women are agents of foreign powers. That strikes me as unlikely because would such a person invite scrutiny by giving the FBI access to her emails and person?

Still, it ought to be examined, preferably by Congress, not the FBI agents in Tampa.

According to a timeline -- which I believe to be accurate -- by August of 2012 the FBI had informed Jill Kelley that they'd traced the emails to Broadwell, Petraeus's mistress.

By late summer of 2012 Attorney General Eric Holder was (as the law required) specifically informed of the ongoing FBI investigation. The FBI, according to this version, having convinced itself there'd been no security breach, was continuing to poke around in General Petraeus' emails to see if he had any role in those sent to Kelley.

Surely, by mid-September Petraeus and Broadwell had some inkling of what was going on. To believe otherwise you'd have to think the otherwise indiscreet Kelley told no one -- not even her dear friend General Allen -- what the FBI had told her about those emails, that the head of the CIA had not a clue that the FBI was asking about him and his relationship to Broadwell.

Here are some other things going on in September about the time Petraeus testified the first time to Congress.  Jill Kelley is the guest of a "mid-level" White House staffer.

In recent months she's visited there three times. Who invited her? Why?

As Thomas Lipscomb notes, "I love it. She lost her parking pass to MacDill AFB , and now hangs out in the W[hite] H[ouse]mess."

Also in September, Jill Kelley's twin sister, estranged from her husband and in the middle of  a child custody battle, enlists the aid of Generals Petraeus and Allen who write glowing reports on her behalf to the judge who discounts their versions of her mothering skills. It's not out of the question that both guys were willing to sacrifice the interests of a 4-year-old child to their own.

The administration's official talking points to which Petraeus hewed in his mid-September testimony, reflect the administration's cockamamie ideas about Islamic terrorism (emphasis supplied):

"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the United States Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against United States diplomatic posts in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

Bgates expresses my view on the italicized portion: "The implication is that the CIA was open to the possibility that American diplomatic facilities were attacked, and American diplomatic personnel, murdered, by moderate centrists."

Friday of this week Petraeus, now out of office, volunteered to a House Committee in closed session that he knew all along that the Al Qaeda was involved in the slaughter at Benghazi but that someone in the White House altered the text of his statement. 

Saturday the White House denied "heavily editing" his testimony:

The White House did not heavily alter talking points about the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, an official said on Saturday.

"If there were adjustments made to them within the intelligence community, that's common, and that's something they would have done themselves," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters. "The only edit... made by the White House was the factual edit as to how to refer to the facility."

The suggestion that the White House had no interest in compelling subordinate officers to downplay any suggestion of terrorism is belied by the accounts in the New York Times undoubtedly sourced by people in the White house:

From the NYT article last May on Obama's kill list:

David Axelrod, the president's closest political advisor, began showing up at the "Terror Tuesday" meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful [terrorist] attack would overwhelm the president's other aspirations and achievements.

Matt Holtzmann has studied this  and starting with the appearance of Axelrod at  "Terror Tuesday" meetings, makes a  compelling argument that the administration always knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack and has made great efforts to obfuscate that fact to facilitate the President's re-election:

In addition, we have the President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implying on September 12 that it was the video and not a terrorist attack. The State Department could not move fast enough to produce and air advertisements on Pakistani Television apologizing for the video.

On September 14, the Libyan government had four men in custody according to Al Jazeera. On the 19th, the president of Libya laid out the details to that same network.

On September 24, the President appeared on "The View" and said the investigation was continuing, and did the same on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. The commemorative photo, run by the Washington Post, is especially offensive in light of the lies.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on the 25th, the President stated "If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis" while ignoring the crisis of trust at home as he ignored the real cause for the violence.

The Daily Beast had the administration dead to rights on September 26.

The election came and went and the Administration has continued to do its best to cover up the cover up. But on October 26th, Director Petraeus dropped a curiously worded statement saying that  "No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate." This called into question whether a rescue force was prevented from rushing to Benghazi and absolved the CIA of decision-making authority. This after the Administration did its best to pin blame on the CIA and intelligence community.

Director Petraeus statement this morning is at complete odds with the Administration's narrative. The CIA did its job on September 11 and reported the facts as they saw them.

How do you catch the gingerbread man? Slowly and methodically unravel the pack of lies. Interview under oath the officials involved and the thirty survivors of the massacre. Congressmen are notoriously inept at interrogating witnesses, relying often on young staff with no litigation experience and stuck with a process that permits endless obfuscation by those members determined to gum up the works. Hire competent outside help if you need to.

The super-sleuth Edward Jay Epstein offers up a fine series of questions to Powerline. Congress could do worse than using these as a starting point:

Before we can walk the cat back, and establish the chronology of a possible penetration, we need to answer the following ten questions:

1. When and where did the sexual liaison between Paula Broadwell begin?  Was it before, during, or after the FBI conducted its mandatory background check on General Petraeus in 2011?

2. When did General Petraeus (who had top secret access) and Paula Broadwell collaborate to set up anonymous gmail accounts and exchange passwords to them?  Over what period were these "drop boxes" used to evade US intelligence surveillance of internet providers through the device of storing drafts of unsent emails?

3. It is reported that Paula Broadwell, a former military intelligence officer (under the pseudonym "KelleyPatrol"), sent an email to General John Allen, the former deputy to General Petraeus in Tampa, warning him that Gilberte ("Jill") Khawam Kelley was a "seductress." If so, on what date was this warning to General Allen sent?

4.  It is further reported General Allen told Kelley of the anonymous warning.  If so, on what date did this occur?

5. It is reported that Kelley consulted a friend in the Tampa FBI field office in May 2012. What was exact date? Was it after she received news of the warning from General Allen?

6. When did the FBI determine "drop boxes" were being used by Paula Broadwell?

7. The FBI reportedly obtained a warrant by showing probable cause of a crime in order to search the anonymous accounts.  If this was a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, what crime did the FBI allege it was investigating?  On what date did it obtain this warrant?

8. When was General Petraeus told by the FBI it was investigating anonymous gmail accounts? Was it done through the FBI liaison with the CIA?

9. When did the FBI determine Paula Broadwell was in possession of classified data on her computer?

10. It is reported that General Petraeus told Paula Broadwell to stop sending anonymous letters. If so, was it after he learned of the FBI investigation?  In any case, when did General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell last communicate[.]

Surely leaving our ambassador and his staff and those guarding them to die when rescue was possible and then lying to Congress and the public about it for political advantage are impeachable offenses, but in the absence of a Special Prosecutor statute of the sort that permitted the investigation of President Clinton, only Congress can catch the gingerbread man. Are they up to the task?

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