Benghazi message linked to politics
White House emails made public on Tuesday show that an adviser to President Obama directed the talking points on the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.
Presidential adviser Ben Rhodes sought to portray the 2012 assaults, which killed four Americans in Benghazi, as “rooted in an Internet video and not a failure of policy” while burnishing the president's “strength and steadiness,” the conservative Judicial Watch reported.
Republicans described the revelations — contained in State Department records released under the Freedom of Information Act — as “the smoking gun” that proved the administration deliberately played with the facts concerning Benghazi for political purposes.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Obama was in the last weeks of a re-election campaign, claiming that al-Qaida was “decimated” and “on the run.”
In one email dated Sept. 14, 2012, Rhodes, who oversees national security communications for the White House, lists “goals” for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to achieve when she explained what happened in Benghazi on Sunday morning talk shows.
The email, sent to officials including White House press secretary Jay Carney, says one goal was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Another was “to reinforce the president and administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”
During appearances on five news programs, Rice blamed the attack on a protest against an anti-Islam video produced by an American resident.
In congressional testimony this month, former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell told lawmakers it was Rice in her Sunday appearances who linked the video to the Benghazi attack.
Republicans claim the story emanated from the White House to protect the president from charges that he was wrong to trumpet that al-Qaida was in retreat.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the emails are “a smoking gun” that points to White House efforts “to shape the story” of what happened in Benghazi.
Rather than have Rice provide “the best information that was available” in her TV appearances, the administration's goal was “to put a political stance on a disaster six weeks before an election,” Graham said.
The White House has said it relied on the best intelligence available at the time, and when better intelligence arrived, the story was clarified.
The Rhodes email was not included in the pages of emails released by the administration in May.
“Even as Congressional Democrats were calling for an end to the Benghazi investigation with false claims that everything had been turned over and examined, the State Department was hiding this email and other documents covered by the Committee's August 2013 subpoena,” Frederick Hill, the deputy staff director of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told The Daily Beast.
These latest emails were provided to the committee only two weeks ago.
“The White House has been holding back potentially incriminating documents,” conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin posted.
Some emails released to Judicial Watch were sent during the terrorist attack on the Benghazi compound.
U.N. special adviser Eric Pelofsky told Rice that he was “very, very worried. In particular that (Ambassador Chris Stevens) is either dead or this was a concerted effort to kidnap him.”
Rice replied, “God forbid.”
The White House did not comment on the latest emails.
USA Today contributed to this report.