In an unexpected move Wednesday, the White House released email communications pertaining to the administration’s response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya and its drafting of the “talking points” that administration officials used to inform the public in the following days.
The talking points have been an issue of contention, not just in recent days but over the past eight months. Republicans charged the Obama administration with staging a “cover up” by presenting the siege as stemming from a spontaneous protest, when the violence was later proven to be a planned terrorist attack. The attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, occurred on the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks and less than two months before the 2012 presidential election.
Pressure mounted on the White House to release all email communications pertaining to the talking points after an email obtained Tuesday by NBC News and other media outlets drew into question a previously leaked narrative portraying the administration as sharing the State Department’s desire to shield itself from criticism.
On Friday, ABC News reported that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in an email, “we must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department,” while The Weekly Standard reported that Rhodes “explain[ed] that [State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland] had raised valid concerns” and that those concerns would be addressed in the following day’s meeting, according to sources familiar with an email sent by Rhodes. These accounts stemmed from sources familiar with the emails, not the emails themselves. The White House had previously released its communications to Congress as part of an investigation, under the condition the materials would not be shared.
The actual email, first obtained by CNN on Tuesday, showed a very different situation.
According to an email dated Friday, September 14–three days after the Benghazi attacks, and two days before Obama administration officials including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows–Rhodes wrote, “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.”
During Tuesday’s briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney accused “Republicans who were leaking these e-mails” of doctoring the message for political gain.
“I think it just reinforces what we’ve seen, 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,” Carney said Tuesday.
Carney, during Wednesday’s press briefing, insisted that the administration has provided “to the relevant committees as well as leadership and staff the very emails that we’re talking about–and that was a concession, a unique concession to a long-standing position held by administrations of both parties going back years, that internal deliberations are not something we divulge or make public.”“I can also tell you that we are also looking at ways we can provide more information about this specific issue,” Carney added.
A few hours later, White House invited reporters and correspondents from major news organizations to review the documents it had presented to Congress.