About those "doctored" Benghazi e-mails...

I understand that the posts today have focused a lot on the political talk show circuit, and some of the material being covered has some cross-over elements to it, so I apologize for that. But this one really does deserve a hearing of its own, particularly given the new “gotcha” talking points being foisted on the Left. We’re seeing a story being pushed by administration supporters, up to and including Democratic congressmen, claiming that the Benghazi e-mails were intentionally altered by the GOP for political purposes.

When you run into these smug, told-ya-so defenders of the White House, you should calmly point them to this article from Jonathan Strong at National Review, where this claim is firmly debunked. First, he starts out with the prime example of this talking point delivered (again) from Dan Pfeiffer on this morning’s round of talk shows.

Here’s the evidence that proves the Republicans are playing politics with this: They received these emails months ago, didn’t say a word about it, didn’t complain, confirmed the CIA director . . . right after that. And then last week, a Republican source provided to Jon Karl of ABC News a doctored version of the White House email that started this entire fury. After 25,000 pieces of paper that were provided to Congress, they have to doctor an email to make political hay, you know they’re getting desperate here.

That certainly does look like a lethal blow to critics of the administration… were it only true. As Jonathan points out, the history of these events is quite different than what’s being portrayed here. He breaks it down into four key points, of which two will be of particular interest.

Nothing was “doctored.” Following the House report, Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard revealed a significant amount of new detail, followed by Jon Karl at ABC News. Both Hayes and Karl refer to summaries of the emails, meaning they presumably relied a great deal on the notes of those at the March 19 White House briefing. Karl inaccurately quotes from one email, which may have been based on faulty note-taking or some other error. While this is significant, the email in question exists and has the same core content as the email quoted by Karl — there was no wholesale fabrication.

The incorrect versions – and they were inaccurate quotes – were not generated by GOP operatives. They were extracted by ABC’s Jon Karl from notes taken by attendees at the original meeting when the White House refused to initially allow anyone to have copies which could have been used for full referencing. ABC went with the notes, being the closest thing anyone had to an official record, and the GOP worked off those notes. But even then, the “doctoring” wasn’t nearly as significant as the Democrats are making it out to be.

The differences between the two versions of the email have been overstated. At issue is the involvement of Ben Rhodes, a senior White House aide, in directing the various members of the inter-agency discussion to resolve their dispute.

Here’s the relevant part of the email as quoted by Karl:

We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.

Here’s the relevant sentence from the real email:

We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.

The email is important because in the preceding email back-and-forth, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had urged that references to terrorism be removed because they could be a political liability to State. Whether Rhodes said Nuland’s objections should be accommodated explicitly or by implication is a difference, but it’s a pretty small one.

Were there differences? Yes, and we should be careful in providing an accurate record of what was written, so older versions should be expunged and replaced. But does this change the essential testimony being offered from the e-mails? Not to speak of. And what differences there are were not generated by the GOP, but by quick note taking which was picked up by Jon Karl. Just keep that in mind as the White House continues to try to squirm their way out of this.