New revelations about the e-mail in question appeared to give the administration a modest offensive weapon during a week of defensive crouching over reports of apparently inappropriate IRS targeting of conservative groups and secret Justice Department subpoenas for telephone records of reporters.
The convoluted e-mail saga began Friday with reports by ABC News and the Weekly Standard that administration e-mails on Benghazi obtained by Congress months ago contained several smoking guns.
Chief among them, ABC said, was a Sept. 14 message from Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, to several other agencies involved in formulating talking points about the attack that had occurred three days earlier at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in the eastern Libyan city.
Responding to questions that the articles said were raised by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about whether to exclude information about the pre-attack threat level, Rhodes said that “Nuland had raised valid concerns,” according to the Weekly Standard’s version of the e-mail.
ABC purported to quote the operative paragraph of Rhodes’s e-mail, saying, “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”
Both articles concluded that this was proof that the State Department had been actively involved in removing information that showed a lack of security around the U.S. facility in Benghazi despite the known threat level. The talking points were used by Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in Sept. 16 television appearances that Republicans have charged were intended to mislead for political gain.
According to a copy of the e-mail obtained by The Washington Post and other media outlets on Tuesday, Rhodes never mentioned the State Department in his e-mail. “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation” of the attack by the FBI, Rhodes wrote.
Neither ABC nor the Weekly Standard revealed the source of their information, and Congress was originally given the e-mails on the condition that they not be released to the public.
But Carney appeared certain, accusing “Republicans who were leaking these e-mails” of also fabricating portions for political reasons.
“I think it just reinforces what we’ve seen,” he said, “which is an ongoing effort to politicize this . . . to cherry-pick information or, in this case, just make it up in order to fit a political narrative.”
In a story posted on ABC’s Web site, reporter Jonathan Karl said that “the White House could still clear up this confusion by releasing” all the e-mails provided to Congress.