Newly-Released Emails Link Benghazi Scandal to White House
Emails released on Tuesday link the White House to what critics call misleading messaging regarding the deadly September 11, 2012 Islamic militant attack on the United States diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Republicans are calling the newly-released email messages, which were obtained following a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch, the “smoking gun” proving White House officials actively manipulated the Benghazi narrative to shield President Barack Obama from negative consequences less than two months before the 2012 general election.
A newly-declassified email from then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and other leading communications officials seems to suggest the sender was at least as concerned about protecting the president’s image as he was about protecting American personnel and facilities abroad. The email lists four talking points, or “goals”:
1. To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
2. To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
3. To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm America to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests;
4. To reinforce the president and administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.
The Rhodes email was sent at 8:09pm on Friday, September 14, three days after the militant attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
The subject line on the email was “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00pm ET.” The “prep” was for then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s upcoming TV tour, during which she insisted on numerous Sunday talk shows that the attack was not terrorism but rather a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam Internet video that spun out of control.
Administration critics claim the newly-released emails show the administration was active in shaping a message meant to deflect blame from it and redirect it toward the video. Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama all attributed the attack to the video, even though the CIA station chief in Libya reported within 24 hours of the incident that al-Qaeda linked militants were responsible.
Republican lawmakers seized on the new documents to accuse the Obama administration of misleading the public about Benghazi.
“This was a cover-up, and these emails only continue to confirm my belief,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, told Newsmax. “The emails show that in the days after the attack… the White House was more focused on protecting President Obama than informing Americans about the terrorist attack that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.”
“This email is a smoking gun,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “It shows political operatives in the White House working to create a political narrative at odds with the facts. Their goal was not to tell the truth about what actually happened. They did not want to provide the best information available.”
The White House claims it relied upon the best available intelligence at the time of the attack, and that it clarified its story when better intelligence information was provided. White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told USA Today that there were indeed protests throughout the region in reaction to the offensive anti-Muslim video.
“So that’s what these (email) points addressed,” she wrote. Anti-video protests in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and Tunisia “contributed to questions of how the attack began,” Meehan insisted.
The new documents also reveal that then-deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough, acting on Rhodes’ behalf, assigned Jake Sullivan, a Clinton aide, to collaborate with former CIA deputy director Mike Morell to finalize Benghazi talking points by adding the narrative about the anti-video protests.
Earlier this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report calling the Benghazi attack “preventable” but dismissing Republican allegations of an administration “cover-up.”
Tagged Ben Rhodes, benghazi, benghazi attack, Benghazi emails, Benghazi scandal, Benghazi talking points, Hillary Clinton Benghazi, Jim Inhofe, lindsey graham, President Barack Obama, Susan Rice Benghazi, White House