Jay Carney clashes with Jon Karl: That Benghazi e-mail from Ben Rhodes wasn't about Benghazi

Not the first time the White House has tried to spin itself out of a political jam on Benghazi by very finely parsing a particular choice of words. The day after the attack, Obama said vaguely in the Rose Garden that “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation;” after that, however, he studiously refused to describe Benghazi as a terrorist attack. Then, later, having taken some heat for that, he insisted that he’d been calling it terrorism all along, pointing back to his Rose Garden statement as proof. WaPo’s fact-checker slapped him with four Pinocchios for that.

Now here’s Carney insisting that the Ben Rhodes email that lit up conservative media yesterday, which listed as one of the White House’s goals before Susan Rice’s Sunday show appearances “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy,” didn’t necessarily mean Benghazi — even though the whole reason Rice was booked was because a U.S. ambassador had just been killed in the American consulate there. It’s basically his version of “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Is it working?

Q: Jay, I guess you’re aware that Judicial Watch obtained an email from Ben Rhodes to staff members about the Benghazi attack.

MR. CARNEY: That’s incorrect, but go ahead.

Q: Oh, OK.

MR. CARNEY: The email and the talking points were not about Benghazi. They were about the general situation in the Muslim world, where you saw, as you may recall, protests…

That exchange isn’t in the clip below (it happened a few minutes earlier in the briefing) but you’ll see Carney reiterate the point. In other words, he wants you to think that Rhodes’s e-mail wasn’t about spinning the gigantic foreign-policy crisis foisted on the White House by the Benghazi attack but rather the much smaller crisis of Islamists gathering near the U.S. embassies on the anniversary of 9/11 to protest the Mohammed movie. It’s ludicrous on its face. If he’s desperate to spin the Rhodes e-mail, I wonder, why didn’t he follow the timeline a la Dave Weigel and argue that Rhodes himself was merely reacting to the first draft of the CIA talking points issued earlier that same day? The White House’s goal all along in this mess over the video has been to keep it safely quarantined outside their own building, a product of honest error by U.S. intelligence, not scapegoating directed from political agents in Obama’s inner circle. Carney could have made that move here; instead, he decided to try arguing that somehow the entire public’s confused about the plain import of Rhodes’s e-mail, to spin the Benghazi attack. Baffling.

Another question from Karl: Why wasn’t Rhodes’s e-mail released before yesterday? It … does seem germane to the House’s investigation of Benghazi.

If there’s no smoking gun and they’re eager to put Benghazi behind them, everything should have been disgorged to House investigators ASAP. Instead, this. What conclusion should be drawn?

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