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What was President Obama doing during the eight hours that the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was under attack? Amazingly, we still do not know 20 months later.
But there is an easy way to find out — just ask the White House diarist.
When trying to keep track of the president’s time, most observers look at “WAVE records” (the White House visitors log listing everyone who enters the White House complex) and the “President’s Public Schedule” (which selectively lists the president’s public activities). But there is another document that meticulously records all the president’s activities, public and private, every second of every day. It is called the “President’s Daily Diary.”
Just outside the Oval Office is a room called the Outer Oval, where the president’s secretary and personal aide sit and through which all visitors coming to see the president pass. Staff members in the Outer Oval keep track of the president’s location at all times. They carefully record the names of all individuals who walk into the Oval Office — when they entered, how long they stayed, what the topic of discussion was. They keep a record of all calls made and received by the president, including the topic, participants and duration. They even record the president’s bathroom breaks (they write “evacuating” into the log).
This and other data on the presidents’ whereabouts are collected by a career National Archives employee whose title is White House diarist. This individual preserves them as a minute-by-minute historical record of the presidency for future use by presidential scholars.
What this means is that there exists a minute-by-minute record of where the president was and what he was doing for all eight hours of the Benghazi attack.
So how is it that the White House has failed to give a full account of the president’s whereabouts during that eight-hour period? The White House knows precisely where he was and what he was doing, yet it is refusing to share that information with Congress and the American people. This is unacceptable. Imagine if 20 months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush White House had still refused to account for where the president was or what he was doing that day. There would be outrage and constant demands from the press, Congress and other investigators demanding to know the answer to a simple factual question: Where was the president?
The new congressional select committee on Benghazi should subpoena the “President’s Daily Diary” and call the White House diarist to testify before the committee. There is precedent for doing so. In 1998, the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair questioned White House diarist Ellen McCathran. Moreover, the “President’s Daily Diary” is not a classified document. It eventually becomes a publicly available record. There is no reason to withhold it from Congress.
Americans have a right to know where their president was while a terrorist attack was taking place — and the daily diary will provide that information. There will be a record if Obama held a secure video teleconference (SVTC) with his military commanders in the region or even spoke with them by phone. There will be a record if he met or spoke with his national security adviser to discuss the unfolding attack, and how many times he did so. If properly kept, the logs will show precisely what Obama was doing — whether he was carefully monitoring events on the ground or was otherwise occupied.
What else might the commander in chief have been doing? There has been speculation that Obama held a campaign debate prep session as the Benghazi attack was unfolding. The White House visitors log shows that three individuals — Michael Donilon, David Ginsberg, and Ron Klain — entered the White House on September 11, 2012 for “debate prep.” The record notes “3 meet with Potus NO TIME LISTED 9/11/12.” The “President’s Daily Diary” will tell us whether the president attended this meeting and what time it took place.
The White House eagerly shared details of the president’s whereabouts during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, even releasing a photo of him monitoring the assault in the Situation Room in real time. So why not share the same details about his whereabouts during Benghazi?
During Watergate, Richard Nixon had his infamous 18 1/ 2-minute gap. When it comes to Benghazi, Obama has an eight-hour gap. That gap needs to be closed.
If Obama has nothing to hide, then he has nothing to fear.
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