An email written by then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and obtained by Judicial Watch contained four bullet-point “Goals” outlined as part of the strategy to contain the political damage engendered by the murder of four Americans on September 11, 2012 at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. One bullet-point in particular revealed the Obama administration’s deliberate crafting of a deceitful narrative following the incident. According to the Judicial Watch emails, the objective of the Obama administration was to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
The email was part of a series of 41 new Benghazi-related documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed June 21, 2013. That effort was aimed at gaining access to the documents used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her September 16 appearance on five different Sunday TV news programs. Rhodes’ email was sent on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:09 PM. It contained the following subject line: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.”
“Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And these documents undermine the Obama administration’s narrative that it thought the Benghazi attack had something to do with protests or an Internet video. Given the explosive material in these documents, it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose from the Obama State Department.”
Rhodes’ email was sent to several members of the administration’s inner circle. They included White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, then-White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, then-National Security Council Director of Communications Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary Howli Ledbetter, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist David Plouffe.
Another critical email contained in the documents was written by former Deputy Spokesman at U.S. Mission to the United Nations Payton Knopf. It was addressed to Susan Rice and sent on Sept. 12, 2012, at 5:42 PM. It provided a brief summary of the attack, and further revealed that State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland had characterized the compound assault as “clearly a complex attack.” This characterization undermined Rice’s contention that the attacks were “spontaneous.”
Nonetheless when Rice appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN she insisted, as she specifically stated on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that “based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy–sparked by this hateful video.”
Sen. John McCain, who immediately followed Rice’s appearance, revealed the utter nonsense of her assertion. “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he explained. “That was an act of terror, and for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.”
Not ignoring the facts. Making them up. As Judicial Watch explains:
The Judicial Watch documents confirm that CIA talking points, that were prepared for Congress and may have been used by Rice on “Face the Nation” and four additional Sunday talk shows on September 16, had been heavily edited by then-CIA deputy director Mike Morell. According to one email:
The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable….because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy. On the SVTS, Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy hand to editing them. He noted that he would be happy to work with [then deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton]] Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points.
This revelation appears to contradict written testimony given by Morell to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last April, during which he insisted that “there is no truth to the allegations that the CIA or I ‘cooked the books’ with regard to what happened in Benghazi and then tried to cover this up after the fact.” Morell also claimed it was Rice, not the CIA, who linked the video to the attack. “My reaction was two-fold,” he told Committee members, “One was that what she said about the attacks evolving spontaneously from a protest was exactly what the talking points said, and it was exactly what the intelligence community analysts believed. When she talked about the video, my reaction was, that’s not something that the analysts have attributed this attack to.”
Rhodes’ email blows Morell’s allegation out of the water, but a critical question remains unanswered: who did brief Rice in the aforementioned “prep call”?
A letter sent Monday night to the House and Senate foreign affairs committees from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and John McCain (R-AZ) addresses that issue. It asks both committees to compel the Obama administration to explain who briefed Rice for her talk show appearances, and whether anyone from the State Department or White House was involved. “How could former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, during the five Sunday talk shows on September 16, 2012, claim that the attacks on our compounds were caused by a hateful video when Mr. Morell testified that the CIA never mentioned the video as a causal factor,” the letter inquired.
Graham characterizes the latest emails as “a smoking gun,” indicating White House efforts “to shape the story” of the Benghazi attacks and “to put a political stance on a disaster six weeks before an election.”
The White House says otherwise. In an explanation that strains credulity, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed the White House withheld Ben Rhodes’ email from Congress and the media because it didn’t deal directly with the Benghazi attack. “This document was explicitly not about Benghazi, but about the general dynamic in the Muslim world at the time,” he insisted. “The overall issue of unrest in the Muslim world and the danger posed by these protests … was very much a topic in the news.”
Yesterday, in a testy exchange with ABC News White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Carney further declared that the White House urged Rice to focus on the video because her TV appearances were ostensibly supposed to address all of various protests sparked by that video, not just the murders in Benghazi. Karl ridiculed that assertion and reminded Carney that he had lied repeatedly in the past. “You stood there, time after time, and said that she was referring to talking points created by the CIA,” Karl stated. “Now we see a document that comes from the White House, not from the CIA, attributing the protests to the video.” In response, Carney continued to insist the protests outside American embassies were just as big a story, that Rice relied on CIA talking points, and the Rhodes’ email was part of the preparation to respond to the protests in general, not Benghazi.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who believes the newly released emails completely undermine President Obama’s 2012 campaign narrative (i.e. “Al Qaeda is on the run”), also believes a more thorough investigation of Benghazi is warranted. “I think the Republicans have something here that really ought to be looked at,” he said Tuesday. “I just don’t know if there’s gonna be any interest in the mainstream media. They should, because this exposes a cover-up of a cover-up. The fact that it was redacted when the documents were asked for and only revealed by a court order is telling you this is a classic cover-up of a cover-up, and that is a serious offense.”
What Krauthammer is referring to is the reality that Rhodes’ email wasn’t included in the 100 pages of emails released by the administration last May, when Republicans refused to confirm John Brennan as CIA director until the “taking points” memos were released.
Yet Krauthammer’s other point about a lack of mainstream media interest is just as germane. Some of that lack may be driven by the reality that Ben Rhodes’ brother is CBS News President David Rhodes, who was not enamored with former CBS investigative report Sharyl Attkisson’s reporting on the attack, despite the fact that she had been one of the few reporters to follow the story wherever it led. Yesterday in interview with Glenn Beck, Attkisson said she was glad to see “a little more light” shed on that relationship, even as she bemoaned the incestuous relationship between Big Government and Big Media, and the increasing level of intimidation aimed at journalists who refuse to abide that collaboration.
Unfortunately, many in the media are still willing to carry water for the White House. The George Soros-funded Media Matters insists Fox News is “distorting” the use of Ben Rhodes’ memo “to falsely suggest that the administration was lying about the Benghazi attacks for political gain.” Slate’s Dave Weigel claims the email “was largely redundant” and that the talking points blaming the attacks on a video “came from the CIA,” apparently ignoring Morrel’s testimony. Politico Magazine Deputy Editor Blake Hounshell tweeted, “Can you point me to a credible, authoritative story saying the WH knowingly pushed a false narrative?” demonstrating a willful obliviousness to the efforts undertaken by Attkisson, Karl and Fox’s Catherine Herridge.
That’s water-carrying by commission. There’s also water-carrying by omission. On Tuesday, when this story first broke, CBS This Morning was the only network broadcast to cover it. ABC, CBS and NBC completely omitted the story from their evening broadcasts.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) spokesman, Catherine Frazier, expresses what must occur going forward. “This administration must be held accountable to telling the truth so that we can find closure, bring our attackers to justice, and prevent future attacks — and Hillary Clinton’s regrets are not enough,” she said. “All witnesses with knowledge of the attack including administration officials should be called to testify before a joint select committee so we can once and for all know the truth about what happened.”
A select committee on Benghazi has been thwarted by House Majority leader John Boehner (R-OH), who as recently as April 7 still insisted that the four separate committees — Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight — are sufficient to investigate the matter. “There are four committees that are investigating Benghazi,” Boehner told Fox New’s Megyn Kelly “I see no reason to break up all the work that’s been done and to take months and months and months to create some select committee.” “But your own people want it,” Kelly countered. “You got 190 House Republicans whose say they need it.”
Boehner remained resolute.“I understand that,” he said. “At some point, that may — that may be required.” We are now at the point, Mr. Boehner.
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