A newly released internal White House email, obtained by Judicial Watch, shows that White House communications officials were instructed to highlight the role of an anti-Muslim video in spurring the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks in order to ensure President Obama avoided any blame.
While the email does not prove that White House officials knew the video was ultimately not the precipitator and that the incidents were a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, it does show Obama aides had a motive for emphasizing the video over other possible causes.
Nevertheless, State Department official Gregory Hicks, who was on the ground at the time in Libya, said it was clear over there that the video played no role. And the email, from White House national security spokesman Ben Rhodes, was sent Sept. 14, after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested the assault was planned, calling it “clearly a complex attack.”
And of course, Obama himself tried to suggest – even during a debate with Mitt Romney – that he had characterized the attack as terrorism by calling it an “act of terror” on Sept. 12.
Either the White House knew it was terrorism or it didn’t – you can’t have it both ways.
The email suggests if the White House knew the assault was premeditated, it must have forgotten.
From Judicial Watch:
The Rhodes email was sent on sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 8:09 p.m. with the subject line: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.” The documents show that the “prep” was for Amb. Rice’s Sunday news show appearances to discuss the Benghazi attack.
The document lists as a “Goal”: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in and Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
Rhodes returns to the “Internet video” scenario later in the email, the first point in a section labeled “Top-lines”:
“[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.”
Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes memo were White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, then-White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, then-National Security Council Director of Communications Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary Howli Ledbetter, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist Davie Plouffe.
The Rhodes communications strategy email also instructs recipients to portray Obama as “steady and statesmanlike” throughout the crisis. Another of the “Goals” of the PR offensive, Rhodes says, is “[T]o reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.” He later includes as a PR “Top-line” talking point:
“I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.”
The documents Judicial Watch obtained also include a September 12, 2012, email from former Deputy Spokesman at U.S. Mission to the United Nations Payton Knopf to Susan Rice, noting that at a press briefing earlier that day, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland explicitly stated that the attack on the consulate had been well planned. The email sent by Knopf to Rice at 5:42 pm said:
Responding to a question about whether it was an organized terror attack, Toria said that she couldn’t speak to the identity of the perpetrators but that it was clearly a complex attack.
In the days following the Knopf email, Rice appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN still claiming the assaults occurred “spontaneously” in response to the “hateful video.”
Obama was of course engaged in a reelection campaign, and any indication that he had failed to protect Americans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks could have been political dynamite.
The press failed – and still fails – to adequately investigate the events surrounding Benghazi. Were this George W. Bush, they’d have plowed up the entire South Lawn and dug up the Rose Garden looking for clues.
And Elijah Cummings would be well into his impeachment hearings.