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Story on Benghazi leaks starts to unravel

On the Benghazi story, last week didn't follow the expected trajectory. The big event was supposed to be the House Oversight Committee hearing with
President Obama and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes
President Obama and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes

On the Benghazi story, last week didn't follow the expected trajectory. The big event was supposed to be the House Oversight Committee hearing with "whistleblowers" who would take the story to a whole new level. That didn't work out for Republicans at all -- just about everyone agreed the hearing was a dud and even GOP members agreed the testimony didn't move the ball forward as they'd hoped.

It seemed as if the story was just about done, until Friday, when all of a sudden, it became front-page news again. What happened? This ABC News report detailed the process through which administration talking points were drafted in September, and included a quote from then-Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes that seemed to suggest the White House wanted to remove specific references to terrorist organizations and CIA warnings. At the same time, the Weekly Standard ran similar information, and the rest of the media pounced.

They shouldn't have. Jake Tapper at CNN reports today that ABC and the Weekly Standard reports were based on misleading information.

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 characterized it to two different media organizations.The actual email from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House primarily concerned with the State Department's desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.

So, let me get this straight. Someone -- we don't know who -- leaked misleading information to ABC and the Weekly Standard, they ran it, other news organizations embraced it, we've had several days of "scandal" based on it, and the information wasn't true?

Tapper put it this way: "Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed."

In other words, we're not dealing with a mistake, so much as we're dealing with a political actor deliberately misrepresenting key details to journalists, who in turn misled other journalists, who in turn created a controversy where none existed.

Greg Sargent's take on this rings true.

This would seem to do still more damage to the notion that there was any kind of cover up here.... 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 that preempts 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.

Republicans have spent quite a bit of time recently insisting there are important, unanswered questions surrounding the Benghazi story. I've got one: who misled ABC and the Weekly Standard as part of this effort to smear the White House?