New White House e-mails made public Tuesday by conservative Judicial Watch further support that the Obama team wanted then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to stress that a video disparaging the Prophet Muhammad was the catalyst for a series of anti-American protests across the Islamic world, including the deadly attacks on the Benghazi mission in September 2012.
In an e-mail with the subject line: “PREP CALL with Susan,” deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes wrote that one of the goals before Rice went on the Sunday news shows after the killing of four Americans was to “underscore these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” While the video appeared to be the cause of dozens of protests, it remains in question what impact it had on the attackers in Libya, where four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. The video was produced in the United States by a California real estate developer.
This collection of e-mails was left out of the e-mails released in May 2013 that showed the back and forth within the Obama administration over talking points. The new Rhodes e-mail, which was sent to Rice and others on the Friday night before her Sunday morning appearances, mentions Libya only briefly and focuses on responses to possible questions she could be asked about the widespread protests. It clearly showed a White House top priority was to shield Obama from criticism less than two months before voters decided whether to give him a second term.
Separately, the White House was involved at the same time on Friday night, several days after the attack, in assembling a series of talking points about the Benghazi attacks that the House Intelligence Committee requested. Those talking points were given to Rice on Saturday afternoon.
The previously released Benghazi-specific documents revealed that State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland sent an e-mail Friday night to Rhodes and others expressing her concern that her agency appeared to be taking the blame for failing to heed general CIA warnings of a possible attack on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
Ultimately, the new e-mails do little more than buttress what has been known for a year about the immediate communication among the Obama team as it rushed to cobble together talking points from the information it had to feed to Rice, who was only asked late in the day Friday to be the White House mouthpiece.