Panetta says Obama didn’t call on Benghazi status, didn’t speak to Joint Chief until attack was over
Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed Friday to hold President Obama “accountable” for his leadership on Benghazi, after the top two Defense Department leaders testified that they had just one conversation with Obama during the course of the Sept. 11 terror attack which left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said they spoke with Obama at 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 11 last year. They were both on the same call, and said it lasted about 30 minutes.
Dempsey said they did not speak again until the attack was over.
During the hearing, Graham questioned why there weren’t subsequent follow-up conversations with the president.
“It lasted almost eight hours … did the president show any curiosity?” Graham asked.
Panetta said there was “no question” Obama “was concerned about American lives.”
“With all due respect,” Graham responded, “I don’t believe that’s a credible statement if he never called and asked you, ‘are we helping these people?’”
Panetta said Obama never called to see how events were unfolding, nor did he or anyone from the White House ever call after they had information that Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.
Obama had a “general” idea of what was happening and what assets were available to help our diplomats during the siege, Panetta said, but Obama left “specifics” up to Panetta and the Defense Department.
“There was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond,” Panetta said before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response. … Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”
Still, he said the Pentagon “spared no effort … to save American lives.”