White House officials consciously planned to spin the successful 2012 jihadi attack on the Benghazi diplomatic compound as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video, according to a new email exposed by the public-interest law firm Judicial Watch.
The Sept. 14 email by Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s chief foreign policy spokesman, described the public relations goals for a planned briefing of a top official — Susan Rice — who was scheduled to appear Sept. 16 on five Sunday talk-shows.
She was invited on the shows to explain the September 11 attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The subject of the email was “PREP CALL with Susan.”
The goal of the appearances, said Rhodes, is “to convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad; [and] to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, not a broader failure of policy.”
In her Sunday appearances, Rice implemented the White House’s spin. “Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo,” she claimed on ABC.
“In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated,” said Rice, who was promoted last year to become Obama’s national security advisor.
The email is black-and-white evidence of deception and spin by top White House officials, who have denied since shortly after the 2012 attack that they tried to portray it as an out-of-control protest. In fact, the Cairo demonstration — which was not blocked by the Obama-supported Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt — was organized to demand the release of a jihadi locked up in a U.S. jail.
The new email was extracted only after Judicial watch took the administration to court. Clearly, it is a problem for Obama, whose poll ratings are sliding amid his failure to block Russia’s advance in Ukraine, and his decision to lie about the impact of Obamacare on Americans’ legal ability to keep their preferred health plans.
The damning email is also a problem for Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, and who was responsible for lax security in Benghazi. She was implementing Obama’s foreign policy in Libya, following his decision to help kill the country’s leader in 2010. State Department officials have testified that senior officials insisted prior to the attack that there was no need for extra security. The insistence was caused by the White House’s judgement that the Obama-backed Libya government was keeping peace.
Immediately after the successful Sept. 11 attack, Clinton joined other White House officials in blaming a video made by an Egyptian immigrant in California. The video-maker was sent to jail for several months.
Obama also blamed the video. “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Obama told a U.N. meeting Sept. 25.
Since the attack, Clinton has tried to downplay the failure. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. If it was because of a protest or if it was because guys out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans. What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton said in a January hearing.
The Rhodes email was sent to several top officials who were involved in the briefing, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, deputy spokesman Josh Earnest, and Obama’s top political advisor, David Plouffe.
Ever since Rice’s much-criticized appearance on the five TV shows, officials have denied that the White House tried to spin the attack. Instead, they have claimed that Rice relied on “talking points” prepared by intelligence officials, and that the claims about the video were simply a a consequence of confusion about the attackers and their goals.
Since the attack, FBI officials have picked up one Libyan believed to be a leader of the attack. However, officials have acted very cautiously, because they worry that any counterstrike would undermine Libya’s weak government.
“Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” said a statement from Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “Given the explosive material in these documents, it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose from the Obama State Department,” he said.