Washington wants yet another leak investigation.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) today asked for an accounting as to how “doctored” e-mails relating to the Obama administration’s deliberations on Benghazi wound up in the hands of the media. The impetus for Schiff’s call is the months-long controversy over the talking points that the Obama administration developed immediately after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. personnel. Republicans said that they were drafted to downplay the administration’s election-year vulnerability on terrorism. Democrats say that they reflected the best information available at the time. In any case, they served as the basis for Susan Rice’s much-criticized remarks on five Sunday political talk shows on Sept. 16.
The talking points zoomed back into the news just weeks ago, when the Weekly Standard and ABC News published stories showing that the document had shrunk through an extensive review process ending at the White House. Those stories were based on leaks from unidentified sources, and they put pressure on the White House to explain itself on Benghazi for the thousandth time.
It did, authoritatively, by releasing 100 pages of e-mails detailing the back-and-forth among the agencies, a dump that beat back the notion that the White House exerted political influence over the talking points from the start. In a statement released today, Schiff said:
When the GOP was given access to the lengthy email documents weeks ago, it was clear that their theory the White House inserted the ‘protest’ in the talking points to mislead the country had been completely debunked. The erroneous statement that the attacks on our facilities in Benghazi began as a protest was drafted by the intelligence community and remained in the talking points from beginning to end. This was the intelligence community’s belief at the time, and as flawed as that assessment was, the emails made clear the White House had no role in it.
Schiff was irked that prior to the e-mails’ release, news reports inaccurately portrayed key bits of correspondence, and he specifically cited ABC News in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog today. On May 10, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl issued an explosive story chronicling the evolution of the administration’s talking points. Karl’s piece quoted from an e-mail by White House aide Ben Rhodes stressing that the views of the State Department — which was pressing for deletion of large pieces of information from the document — must be considered in the interagency process. When Rhodes’s full e-mail later surfaced, it showed no specific reference to appeasing the State Department. Karl has countered that the entire process accommodated State, in any case.
Though ABC News and Weekly Standard didn’t give extensive details on their sourcing for the stories, Schiff says it’s not hard to reverse-engineer them: “I don’t know precisely who doctored and leaked the e-mails but plainly it didn’t come from administration, and it wouldn’t have come from Democratic staffers,” Schiff said. Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney accused “Republicans” of “fabricating” e-mails in an effort to embarrass the Obama administration.
At a moment when everyone is talking about leaks and investigations, Schiff has more for the pile: “A GOP leak of doctored e-mails [became] the basis of GOP talking points,” said Schiff. “That’s a pretty disturbing irony considering the investigation was supposed to be about spin on talking points.”
In his quest for accountability, Schiff singles out Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A reliable critic of the White House, Issa recently welcomed a trio of Benghazi whistleblowers to testify before his committee and vows to continue looking into the controversy. “Congressman Issa owes the public an answer as to who doctored these emails, who leaked them to the press, and who is being held accountable,” said the statement.
Why Issa? That’s the question of his spokesman, Frederick Hill, who e-mailed this note today: “The Oversight Committee did not view the talking point e-mails until they were publicly released on Wednesday. They were not made available to our committee prior to that. Schiff should check his facts and stop playing politics to the detriment of Benghazi victims’ families who are still seeking answers.”
Capitol Hill brawling is great and all, but the Erik Wemple Blog’s lane is media. Back to that: When asked to critique the media’s Benghazi e-mail stories, Schiff responded, “I think if they didn’t have the actual documents [e-mails], it would have been prudent to disclose the potential bias of the source.”