CNN’s Jake Tapper scoops:
CNN has obtained an email sent by a top aide of President Barack Obama, in which the aide discusses the Obama administration reaction to the attack on the U.S. posts in Benghazi, Libya. The actual email differs from how sources were inaccurately quoted and paraphrased in previous media accounts.
The significance of the email seems to be that whomever leaked the inaccurate information earlier this month did so in a way that made it appear that the White House – specifically deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes – was more interested in the State Department’s desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department than Rhodes’ email actually stated.
The actual email is right here. The key portion is this:
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.”
Tapper says that ABC News, in its scoop last week, quoted from this email in a way that suggests more of an administration emphasis on resolving the State Department’s concerns with the talking points — i.e., that State wanted to remove mentions of specific terror groups and cut the CIA’s warnings about previous attacks.
But as Tapper puts it: “Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed…Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his email on the State Department’s concerns.”
This would seem to do still more damage to the notion that there was any kind of cover up here. Remember, the desire by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland to cut the talking points’ references to previous attacks was an area where the editing really did appear to be about managing appearances. It’s increasingly clear that this was merely a bureaucratic turf war at work, in which State wanted to get rid of the CIA’s efforts to insert into the talking points stuff seemingly designed to preempt blame against the agency. This new revelation from Tapper takes this even further — it suggests the administration didn’t even prioritize State’s demands and was simply looking to get agencies on the same page to prevent the spreading of misinformation.
Indeed, the email explicitly cites worry about the “significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.” That suggests, again, that this internal debate was mainly about not getting out too far ahead of what was actually known — which could actually be a desirable thing under such circumstances.
Indeed, if this report bears out, it weakens the underpinning of this supposed scandal considerably. The edited talking points themselves actually don’t support what conservatives claim they do: Even the initial, unedited talking point describes the attack as spontaneous, noting that extremists with ties to Al Qaeda “participated” in it. While the reference to Al Qaeda was cut out — and while the talking points watered down the initial claim by couching it as speculation — the talking points never, at any point, even before any editing, claimed this was a preplanned terror attack. What this means is that the administration, in its initial assessments, did not meaningfully deviate from the assessment the intelligence community was reaching in real time. So there’s no scandal there. Now the notion that the editing itself had overly political motives has been challenged.
The problematic piece that’s left is that the White House did, in fact, initially misrepresent the extent of the involvement in the editing of the talking points. I still believe the White House could clear that up by admitting error. But either way, if the editing itself is not problematic, then that doesn’t leave much of a scandal behind.
Tapper concludes: “whoever leaked the inaccurate information earlier this month did so in a way that made it appear that the White House – specifically Rhodes – was more interested in the State Department’s concerns, and more focused on the talking points, that the email actually stated.”
So who provided this seemingly changed version of the email to ABC News?