National Security Adviser Susan Rice

National Security Adviser Susan Rice Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Here's How Newly-Released Benghazi Emails Could Actually Embarrass the White House

New documents include a set of talking points created by Obama advisor Ben Rhodes.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the White House quickly jumped from questions about the cause of the attack to blaming the incendiary YouTube video promoted by Florida pastor Terry Jones.

Last May, a set of emails was leaked by opponents of President Obama outlining the development of the talking points then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice used in a series of television appearances following the September 11, 2012 attack. The White House then released a more complete set of messages, effectively neutralizing critique of how the talking points were created.

New documents, obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch by a Freedom of Information Act request, include a different set of talking points created by Obama advisor Ben Rhodes and sent to administration officials including spokesman Jay Carney. At the top, it outlines four goals:

We've highlighted the most important point: Rhodes' assertion that the protests "are rooted in an Internet video."

At the time this email was sent — about 8 p.m. on Friday, September 14 — a separate set of emails was bounding back-and-forth between the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, and the White House. Those emails, the ones that were the subject of the discussion last May, offer a much different and much more reserved description of what prompted the attack. An email sent from the CIA to the White House at about 5 p.m. included this language:

The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex. … On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.

Over the next night, much of those specifics were stripped out by CIA director Michael Morell. But when Rhodes sent his proposed talking points, the nuance of "currently available information" was lost.

The new documents also include an email sent from a staffer for Rice to a group of employees in her office. It walks through a conversation the State Department's Victoria Nuland held on background with members of the press on the Wednesday after the attacks. In that conversation, Nuland was similarly vague. "Toria said that she couldn't speak to the identity of the perpetrators but that it was clearly a complex attack," the email reads. When Nuland was asked if the attack was linked to the video disparaging the Prophet Muhammed, "she said she could not confirm a connect as we simply don't know — and we won't know until there's an investigation."

What Rhodes was apparently advocating was to eliminate that nuance. And when Rice appeared on Fox News that Sunday with Chris Wallace, she was asked to respond to a statement made by Carney.

CARNEY (on video): This is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive.

WALLACE: You don't really believe that?

RICE: Chris, absolutely I believe that. In fact, it is the case. We had the evolution of the Arab spring over the last many months. But what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world.

One point of critique on the Benghazi affair has long been that the White House wanted to play up the role of the YouTube video in order to deflect critique of their policies. It's not clear if Rhodes had information about the attack (or believed he had information about the attack) that isn't reflected in the documents, but it seems clear that he overstepped the caution that was exhibited by other members of the administration — perhaps leading to Rice's strong and much-derided assertion that the attack was in response to the video. It was his job to protect the White House, but it's likely that this argument has caused much more trouble for Obama than it prevented.

If you'd really like to fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, by the way, the new documents have you covered there, too. On September 27, the key actors in the White House's response team passed around a news article from FoxNews.com which indicated that the administration knew by September 12 that the video didn't play a role. All of the discussion about that article was redacted.

Correction: This post originally stated that Jones created the video at issue. He merely promoted it.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.