Top-ranking members of the Obama administration coordinated in 2012 to portray the deadly attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, as being “rooted in [an] Internet video” and not “a broader failure or policy,” according to newly declassified emails.
A Libyan military member stands guard following the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. (AP)
The emails, released Tuesday by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, show then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes collaborating with other senior White House officials to shield President Barack Obama from criticism.
Several top White House staffers, including political strategist David Plouffe and press secretary Jay Carney, were involved in these emails, some of which were circulated just a day before then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on television to blame the attacks on a YouTube video.
The “goal” going forward, one Rhodes email said, is “to underscore that these protests are rooted in [an] Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
The 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents released Tuesday show that Rice received her talking points directly from the highest reaches of Obama’s inner circle.
“[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it,” Rhodes said in an email.
“We reject its message and its contents,” he added. “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.”
Obama’s then-communications adviser also suggested in an email to Rice that she portray the president as “steady and statesmanlike.”
“I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike,” he wrote. “There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.”
Ben Rhodes’ brother, David, is the president of CBS News, the network that used to employ investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
Attkisson achieved notoriety recently when she resigned from CBS amid claims network officials worked to stifle her reports on White House scandals, including the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and the deadly attacks in Benghazi.
Perhaps most damning in the trove of newly declassified emails is a Sep. 12, 2012, note written by Payton Knopf, former deputy spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Knopf in the email informed Rice that the attacks on the U.S. Consulate were “complex” and pre-planned and not “spontaneous,” as Rice would later insist they were.
The emails also show that then-CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell was the one who changed his agency’s talking points on the assault.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice looks on alongside President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Philippines President Benigo Aquino at Malacanang Palace in Manila, April 28, 2014. (Getty Images)
“The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable … because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy,” one email reads. “Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy hand to editing them. He noted that he would be happy to work with [then-deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton] Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points.”
The immediate takeaway from the email dump, according to Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, is that the White House was most concerned in the days following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks with protecting the president.
“Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” Fitton said in a statement. “And these documents undermine the Obama administration’s narrative that it thought the Benghazi attack had something to do with protests or an Internet video.”
“Given the explosive material in these documents, it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose from the Obama State Department,” he added.
(H/T: Washington Free Beacon)
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Programming note: For more on the Benghazi story, watch TheBlaze TV’s all-new For the Record episode “Zero Footprint,” Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET.