If this isn’t a smoking gun on Benghazi, at least on the controversy over the talking points that blamed a YouTube video rather than the terrorists who plotted and then conducted the attack, then it’s not clear what would qualify. Judicial Watch forced the release of additional White House e-mails relating to the evolution of the talking points and finds a rather bald-faced admission of Obama administration interests in Susan Rice’s television appearances the following Sunday. The YouTube story was designed to distract from “policy failures,” according to Barack Obama’s aide Ben Rhodes:
Judicial Watch announced today that on April 18, 2014, it obtained 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents. They include a newly declassified email showing then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials attempting to orchestrate a campaign to “reinforce” President Obama and to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” Other documents show that State Department officials initially described the incident as an “attack” a possible kidnap attempt.
The documents were released Friday as result of a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the Department of State (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-00951)) to gain access to documents about the controversial talking points used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for a series of appearances on television Sunday news programs on September 16, 2012. Judicial Watch had been seeking these documents since October 18, 2012.
The Rhodes email was sent on sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 8:09 p.m. with the subject line: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.” The documents show that the “prep” was for Amb. Rice’s Sunday news show appearances to discuss the Benghazi attack.
The document lists as a “Goal”: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in and Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
Rhodes returns to the “Internet video” scenario later in the email, the first point in a section labeled “Top-lines”:
[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.
Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes memo were 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 Davie Plouffe.
That’s a rather extensive distribution list, and that prompts another question:
A question that will go unasked by the media: why are we only seeing this White House Benghazi email now?
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) April 29, 2014
Didn’t the White House insist that they’d offered complete transparency to Congress and the public on the talking points? It was just eleven months ago that the White House claimed to have released their whole archive on the development of those talking points and accused the GOP of “doctoring” them to make their critical response look political. The Washington Post gave White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer three Pinocchios for that claim. Hopefully, Glenn Kessler has a few more Pinocchios in reserve, now that this bombshell has hit.
It’s possible to read this as an extension of a sincere belief that the video caused a riot which led to the attack. By the time this e-mail was written, there was plenty of evidence — even in the e-mail chain itself — to show that wasn’t the case, but let’s say for argument’s sake that Rhodes actually thought this argument was valid. The flip side of it is that, since it wasn’t an ad-hoc demonstration that turned into a riot, the takeaway should be that this was the result of “a broader failure or policy” from the Obama administration. Right?
Update: Fixed a couple of typos, thanks to an e-mail from the indispensable Jeryl Bier. (Took a couple of tries, though.)