How (and why) Benghazi is back

 

The release of a new documents related to the 2012 embassy attack has unleashed a new torrent of outrage on the right about the Obama Administration's handling of the Sept. 2012 terrorist attack that left four Americans dead.

Conservatives say new e-mails prove that the White House deliberately portrayed the attacks as the result of spontaneous protests inspired by a video disparaging the prophet Muhammad -- talking points that were eventually proved to be, at the very least, overstated and incomplete.

The focus has fallen on an e-mail written by Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, in which he recommends emphasizing the video as the source of the demonstrations, not “a failure of policy."

Republicans initially seized on the email, secured via a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, to declare that it was evidence the White House pressured State Department officials to push a narrative that blamed the attack on a protest sparked by a controversial Internet video. But, this Rhodes email was sent after the CIA had already distributed its talking points -- which cited the protest/video -- and the White House has said it was simply repeating those talking points.

So, controversy over, right? No.

As The Daily Beast's Eli Lake first noted, these new emails were not provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform until recently -- months after they were subpoenaed by the Republican-run committee. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a statement declaring that it is "increasingly clear the White House misled the American people" and Cantor's boss, House Speaker John Boehner, called on Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress about why the newly released email was not included in the Republican subpoena. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Thursday to accuse the White House of "obfuscation," while Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) declared the newly released email "the smoking gun that shows that people at the White House level... were very intent on shaping the story on Benghazi..."

Those flames were even further fanned when former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor went on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, and attempted to defend the administration's handling of the Benghazi attack; at one point Vietor said he couldn't remember the exact chain of events because it was two years ago and referred to Baier as "dude."

In the lengthy segment, Baier repeatedly grills Vietor about how the White House's talking points were crafted, questioning whether he was the one to make specific edits to specific sentences in the rhetoric the White House was using -- prompting this memorable exchange:

VIETOR: Dude, this was like two years ago. We’re still talking about the most mundane process.

BAIER: Dude, it is the thing that everybody is talking about.

Democrats have shrugged off the new resurgence of Benghazi outrage. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed back at Fox News' Ed Henry and ABC News's Jonathan Karl in a lengthy exchange during a press briefing Thursday.

 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was visibly frustrated and resistant to the two questions she was asked by reporters about the new email at her weekly press briefing. "What I will say is, again, diversion, subterfuge: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren't we talking about something else?" Pelosi said in response to the first Benghazi question on Thursday. Then, when asked again, she added: "If you all want to sit around and talk about Benghazi, you can sit around and talk about Benghazi. But the fact is, that's a subterfuge that they don't want to talk about -- jobs, growth, immigration reform, voting rights, you name it."

Pelosi was undisputedly correct about one thing: Republicans desperately want to sit around and talk about Benghazi -- it is absolute catnip for their political base and there is a real belief in some GOP circles that the full story is simply not being told.

So, can Benghazi be effective as a campaign issue? A Washington Post/ABC poll from last May found that, even back then, the electorate was torn on whether the Republican argument on Benghazi was a legitimate political issue or just politically posturing.


But, now that it's back, Benghazi isn't going away -- at least not if the Republicans have any say in it.

On Friday, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress about why the newly released emails were not initially provided. Meanwhile the House GOP leadership plans to form a House select committee to continue investigating the Benghazi attack.

Even beyond the 2014 election, Republicans are likely to again reprise the Benghazi attacks next year -- as Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time of the attack, ponders a presidential bid.

As the National Journal's Alex Seitz-Wald points out today, someone tweets about Benghazi every 12 seconds and, in fact, Benghazi has been  mentioned more often on Twitter than Clinton in recent weeks.

The election cycle changes -- from 2012 to 2014 to 2016 -- but, it seems, the GOP's favorite issue will stay the same.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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