Benghazi Emails Show White House Effort to Protect Obama

Staff attempted to insulate president’s policies from criticism ahead of election
Susan Rice

Susan Rice / AP

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Previously unreleased internal Obama administration emails show that a coordinated effort was made in the days following the Benghazi terror attacks to portray the incident as “rooted in [an] Internet video, and not [in] a broader failure or policy.”

Emails sent by senior White House adviser Ben Rhodes to other top administration officials reveal an effort to insulate President Barack Obama from the attacks that killed four Americans.

Rhodes sent this email to top White House officials such as David Plouffe and Jay Carney just a day before National Security Adviser Susan Rice made her infamous Sunday news show appearances to discuss the attack.

The “goal,” according to these emails, was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”

Rice came under fierce criticism following her appearances on television after she adhered to these talking points and blamed the attack on a little-watched Internet video.

The newly released internal White House e-mails show that Rice’s orders came from top Obama administration communications officials.

“[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it,” Rhodes wrote in the email, which was released on Tuesday by the advocacy group Judicial Watch.

“We reject its message and its contents,” he wrote. “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.”

Rhodes also suggested that Rice tout Obama’s reputation as “steady and statesmanlike.”

“I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike,” he wrote. “There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.”

Also contained in the 41 pages of documents obtained by Judicial Watch is a Sep. 12, 2012 email from Payton Knopf, the former deputy spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

In this communication, Knopf informs Rice that senior officials had already dubbed the Benghazi attack as “complex” and planned in advance. Despite this information, Rice still insisted that attacks were “spontaneous.”

The newly released cache of emails also appear to confirm that the CIA altered its original talking points on the attacks in the following days.

Then-CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell is identified as the person who heavily edited the critical fact sheet.

“The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable … because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy,” states one email. “Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy hand to editing them. He noted that he would be happy to work with [then deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton] Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points.”

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said that the emails show the White House was most concerned with insulating Obama.

“Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” Fitton said in a statement. “And these documents undermine the Obama administration’s narrative that it thought the Benghazi attack had something to do with protests or an Internet video.”

“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,” Fitton said.