The smoking-gun White House email that directed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to deceptively blame an Internet video for the 2012 jihad attack on the U.S. diplomatic site in Benghazi, isn’t what critics say, White House spokesman Jay Carney declared Wednesday.
Instead, he insisted, it is really an email about protests outside U.S. embassies in Egypt, Yemen and other countries.
“That document we’re talking about today was taking about the overall environment in the Muslim world,” Carney told reporters today.
Officials expected Rice to cite a CIA-drafted memo once she was asked about the Sept. 11 attack on the lightly guarded diplomatic site, which killed the U.S. ambassador and a State Department official, Carney said.
So the email was really offering answers to questions about other protests in Cairo, Sanaa, and various Muslim capitals, Carney said. In fact, Carney said, that’s why the officials didn’t release the email to congressional investigators who were examining the lead-up to the Benghazi attack on the embassy and a nearby CIA site.
The Sept. 14 memo, which was written by Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s top national security spokesman, declared that Rice should emphasize that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
That’s the message that Rice pitched to Americans during her five TV appearances Sept. 16. “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.
Carney’s new spin is contradicted by the email.
The second page of the email explicitly addresses the Benghazi attack, and includes a proposed answer to a possible question. “What’s your response to [a news report saying that a warning of] the Benghazi attack that was ignored?” said the question. The proposed answer stated “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” The complete email can be found on page 13 of this file.
The protests, according to the email, “were sparked by a disgusting and reprehensible video.”
Also, the Rhodes memo doesn’t say anything about Rice using the CIA memo when she is questioned about the Benghazi attack.
The White House also hid the supposedly innocuous email, until it was extracted via a lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a public-interest law firm. “That Carney would imply that the State Department gave us some random document doesn’t pass the giggle test,” said a statement from Jill Sutherland Farrell, the law firm’s communications director.
Also, Carney and other top officials repeatedly suggested at the time that the Benghazi attack was just a more violent version of the many anti-video demonstrations in Arab capitals.
The main protest was in Cairo, and it was initially organized to pressure the Egyptian and U.S. governments for the release of a Egyptian jihadi, dubbed “The Blind Sheikh,” who is held in a U.S. prison. In the few days prior to the protest, the organizers began citing the video to boost attendance.
The video was made by an Egyptian immigrant in California. The producer says it only repeated widely accepted stories about Islam’s prophet, Mohammad.
White House officials were eager to deflect any blame for the attack, partly because the presidential election was only two months away.
The jihadis were able to get into the city of Benghazi partly because there was a power-vacuum in the country after the dictator, Muammar al-Gadhafi, was killed 11 months before the Benghazi attack by a NATO airstrike. Obama orchestrated the airstrikes but did not provide soldiers in the campaign, or post-war ground support, to help the weak new government suppress various jihadi groups and militias.
While recasting the Sept. 14 email as only focused on non-Benghazi embassies, Carney also claimed that critics were “politicizing” the deeply political question of whether Obama’s policies helped allow or cause the jihad attack on Sept. 12.
There is an “intense effort to politicize this. … The issue here has always been making sure that what happened in Benghazi can’t happen again,” he insisted.