The White House said Wednesday it withheld an email from Congress and the media regarding Susan Rice’s infamous “talking points” about the terrorist attack in Benghazi because the memo did not deal directly with the attack.
“This document was explicitly not about Benghazi, but about the general dynamic in the Muslim world at the time,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
A government watchdog group obtained an email this week that reveals direct White House involvement in steering the administration’s message about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, toward that of a spontaneous anti-U.S. protest that never occurred in that city. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The internal email on Sept. 14, 2012, was to White House press officials from Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s assistant and deputy national security adviser. In the email, Mr. Rhodes listed as a “goal” the White House desire “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
The email was titled, “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET” and covered White House involvement in preparing Ms. Rice, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for her upcoming appearance on Sunday television talk shows.
That email and others provide the clearest evidence to date that top presidential aides sought to use anti-American protests sweeping across the Middle East in 2012 — as well as the aftermath of the Benghazi terrorist attack — to push an image of President Obama’s foreign policy as “steady and statesmanlike,” just weeks before his re-election.
Mr. Carney said the White House withheld the Rhodes memo from congressional and media inquiries because “it was explicitly not about Benghazi.”
“The overall issue of unrest in the Muslim world and the danger posed by these protests … was very much a topic in the news,” Mr. Carney said. At the time, protests in Egypt and elsewhere were directed at the U.S. over an anti-Muslim video produced in America.
Under the heading “Goals” for Ms. Rice’s appearance on five Sunday talk shows, Mr. Rhodes wrote to other White House communications officials that a main objective of Ms. Rice’s interviews should be to “reinforce the president and the administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”
A second goal was to link the Benghazi attack — and those on other diplomatic sites across the Middle East — to an obscure anti-Muslim video and to insist that the protests were not “rooted” in a “broader failure of [administration] policy.”