The Benghazi report released today contains a compilation of reactions from people inside the State Department to the appearance of Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday shows just a few days after the attack. The State employees were surprised by her statements and one even attributed them to White House concern over politics. From the report:
Other subject matter experts within the State Department also recognized problems with what Rice said on the talk shows. State Department em-ployees in Washington D.C. who had spoken with those on the ground in Libya after the attack were universal in their condemnation of Rice’s statements. The Senior Libya Desk Officer, Bureau of Near Eastern Af-fairs, State Department, wrote: “I think Rice was off the reservation on this one.”
The Deputy Director, Office of Press and Public Diplomacy, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, State Department, responded: “Off the reservation on five networks!”
The Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications, Bureau of Near East Affairs, State Department, wrote: “Yup. Luckily there’s enough in her language to fudge exactly what she said/meant.”
He also wrote: “WH [White House] very worried about the politics. This was all their doing.”
Rice agreed to appear on the Sunday shows to explain the administration’s position in lieu of Hillary Clinton. Rice was prepared for her appearance by deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes and adviser to the president David Plouffe. No one from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA or FBI was on the prep call.
Ben Rhodes prepared a document designed to help prep Rice for the appearances. As the report notes, it listed four goals:
To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these pro-tests;
To reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.
When questioned about these bullet points, Rhodes claimed that while bullet point three was clearly about what happened in Benghazi, bullet point two was about events in other parts of the world:
Q: Right. So you are preparing the Ambassador to go on five Sunday talk shows to talk about what you know is going to in-volve Benghazi and you don’t want her to be stuck with the op-tion of a failure of your policy. So you give the option of the In-ternet video. And my question is, who in the intelligence com-munity told you that the attacks in Benghazi were linked to the video?
A: Again, I prepared these points on a Friday in which there were violent protests across the Middle East because of the vid-eo, a violent breach of our facility in Tunis, a violent breach of our facility at Khartoum, violence against an American restau-rant in Lebanon, at the very least. So I very much was focused on the fact that there were ongoing protests, and one of the sub-jects that she was going to be asked about were those protests. So insofar as I’m referring to protests in the video, I’m referring to the many protests that were continuing to take place over the course of that week in response to the video.
Q: So is it your testimony that the second bullet and the third bullet are totally unrelated?
A: They’re referring to different elements of what she’s going to have to talk about on the Sunday shows.
Q: So bullet number two was not about Libya or Benghazi at all.
A: It was not intended to assign responsibility for Benghazi.
But as written, the goals seem to run together and result in the muddled, defensive and inaccurate conflation of events that Rice delivered on the Sunday shows. The same message was coming from the White House spokesman at the time. As you can see in this clip, even when pressed by Jake Tapper, Jay Carney refuses to separate what happened in Benghazi from events taking place elsewhere in the world: