One of the great character-study movies of all time is the 1933 film Duck Soup starring the Marx Brothers.
As President Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho) is interrogating a man named Chiolini (played by Chico) who is on trial for spying. There is this brief exchange as a General rushes in to announce that Sylvania, the country bordering Freedonia, is threatening to attack:
General: This means war!
Civilian Official: Something must be done. War would mean a prohibitive increase in taxes.
Chicolini: I got an uncle lives in Taxes.
Official: Nooo. I'm talking about taxes, money, dollars.
Chicolini: Dollahs. That's where my uncle lives, Dollahs, Taxes!
It's not often that a 13-second clip from a film so closely mirrors the entire absurdity that now engulfs Our Nation's Capital.
We have Presidents, Generals, taxes, countries threatening (or actually engaged in) war, and … Marx Brother-esque double-talk.
At his press conference on Wednesday, President Barack Obama led off with his assertion that the number 250,000 had acquired mythical properties as the income level that separates the wealthy from the middle class. In Dallas and everywhere else in America.
So, that's the taxes part. Obama, then, protested against Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who had said earlier in the day they would block any attempt to confirm the U.S. Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice as Secretary of State.
Putting aside for the moment that the job of Secretary of State is (a) not vacant, so (b) Obama hasn't nominated anyone to fill the non-vacant post, McCain and Graham were pointing out that Rice was trotted out on the Sunday after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi to claim it was the result of that movie about the Prophet Mohammed.
It wasn't true, of course, but Obama said that if the Senators wanted to attack his U.N. Ambassador "then they've got a problem with me."
Going back a month, on October 19, 2012 the Washington Post's David Ignatius quoted the CIA's "talking points" that were given to Rice before her taped appearances on three Sunday talk shows five days after the attacks:
"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
That was the CIA's contemporaneous version of events - or, at least their publiccontemporaneous version of events.
But, let's rewind the tape of that press conference a few minutes. Earlier Obama had been asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether he should have been informed about the investigation into CIA Director David Petraeus' dalliances with his biographer (and lover) Paula Broadwell. From the transcript:
Obama: I am -- I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up. You know, we don't have all the information yet. But I want to say that I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI, and they've got a difficult job.
The President went on to say that if he HAD known, the press might be asking if the White House had been interfering in an investigation.
But, this isn't the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior. This is the head of the CIA and it would be nice to now whether the head of the CIA knew he was under investigation in the days immediately following the Benghazi attack.
House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) had been informed of the investigation on Oct. 27, so it is possible - maybe likely - that Petraeus had been informed by the FBI well in advance of that.
The question is: Was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency distracted by his fear that his affair would become public and so was not operating at full speed during and the days after Benghazi?
As I Tweeted during the presser (@richgalen):
Benghazi: Amb Rice was misled by the CIA whose Dir was distracted by an investigation about which Obama knew nothing. Do I have that right?
If I didn't know better I'd think that was lifted from a Marx Brothers film but there's nothing funny about four Americans killed and the nation's elite spy agency unable to respond either in the field or in the media.
If that is true, or even close to being true, then the Petreaus/Broadwell/Kelley/Allen activity takes on a new and much more sinister aspect.
Duck Soup, indeed.
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On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Marx Brothers clip and to the Washington Post piece. Also another in the series of license plate Mullfotos.