Conservatives, including some Republican congressmen, say emails released by the Obama administration confirm that the White House was lying about the Benghazi incident. The White House says it supports its version. Some Media Matters wanna-bes in the left-wing blogosphere say this means there is no Benghazi fiasco at all (except the dead Americans, of course). All of these are wrong, especially the lefty bloggers.
If you haven’t read through the emails, Jake Tapper at CNN provides a useful summary of the email chronology.
Let me summarize the key points that one can divine from reading the emails, listening to the testimony before the House Oversight Committee and considering briefings that went on contemporaneously:
No email version of the Benghazi talking points mentioned the anti-Muslim video. Did United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday shows run with that aspect of the narrative on her own or she was urged to do so? We do not know whether she had a sit-down or rehearsal or whether her exaggerated and inaccurate account was her own improvisation.
The mention of the spontaneous demonstration came from the very first CIA iteration. Throughout the editing process, it never came out, even though CIA chief General David Petraeus probably knew with a high degree of certainty that there had been no demonstration and the video played no role in the matter. Was inclusion of the demonstrations in the talking points a CIA effort to find some strain of data to make its own lapses seem less serious or was there an honest disagreement as to what occurred?
Even before State weighed in, security officials agreed that the mention of the warning should come out. Hence, concern about the so-called warnings was not evidence of State Department meddling but of recognition that the CIA falsely tried to suggest it had warned about a potential Libya attack. Indeed, James Clapper’s spokesman in one email says, “I’ve been very careful not to say we issued a warning” (Sept. 14, 6:41 p.m.). Moreover, the entire concept of a warning to other agencies and departments was phony from the get-go since Benghazi was primarily a CIA installation.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her senior staff (political appointees) who listened to Gregory Hicks’s 2 a.m. call from Benghazi knew that the spontaneous-demonstration claim was questionable, if not downright false. On Sept. 12, State briefed reporters on background with no mention of any spontaneous demonstration. Clinton would not go on the Sunday shows to mouth them, but her deputy signed off on talking points that featured that theme prominently.
Michael J. Morell from CIA was the primary drafter and managed to get agreement on a vanilla set of talking points — which Petraeus called “useless” — that also happened to be wrong and in Susan Rice’s rendition downright misleading.
Other than Rice, the White House spokesman and the president were the most outspoken about the connection to the video. Carney denied on Sept. 14 the attack had anything to do with the United States. The president promulgated the video story to Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” and in a Univision appearance. Was the president days behind the latest intelligence assessment or actively trying to dissemble?
In sum, concern about how specific the talking points could be began before State got its hands on them. State, the CIA, the FBI and others were concerned about how specific the references to al-Qaeda could be. But there was also the false part of the talking points — what began in the CIA’s first draft as a reference to nonexistent demonstrations and what in Rice’s and the president’s words became the “video made them do it” narrative. In a campaign, is it any wonder the White House favored a version in which the president could not have been expected to be held responsible?
No, the talking points don’t exonerate the White House, but they do point a finger directly back to CIA, Rice, the president and, to a large degree, Hillary Clinton, who, in all likelihood, did know better or should have known better.