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POLITICS: PennAve

Newly released Benghazi emails reaffirm White House role in pushing video narrative

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Politics,White House,Judicial Watch,Benghazi,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,State Department

Administration emails obtained by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch and released Tuesday provide more evidence that top White House aides were involved in emphasizing that an anti-Islamic video provided the impetus for the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.

Earlier this month, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell appeared to take the fall for the initial administration line that the Sept. 11 attack, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, stemmed from a protest and was not a planned terrorist attack.

Morrell testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he and other intelligence analysts initially believed the attack sprang from the protests even though sources on the ground, including the CIA's station chief in Libya, were arguing that the attack was carried out by terrorists.

While Morrell has admitted to playing a significant role in writing and editing the talking points, it was previously not known who else was involved in briefing then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice about the need to stress the narrative that the attack was the result of a protest that spiraled out of control.

One email released Tuesday provides new details on who briefed Rice. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote an email dated Sept. 14 to several top White House aides and communications staff titled “PREP CALL” with Rice, an apparent reference to a briefing White House communications staffers planned with Rice before her Sunday show appearances.

Included on the email were then-White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, press secretary Jay Carney, and deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest, among others.

Almost immediately after Rice appeared on the shows, Republicans on Capitol Hill criticized her version of events and her focus on stressing that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Islamic film, similar to a demonstration that took place in Cairo earlier that day.

The email listed four goals of the prep call with Rice, including “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

Another goal was to “show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests.”

Still another was that the United States “is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad.”

The email then goes on to list potential questions Sunday show hosts might ask and the preferred responses from Rice.

Congressional Republicans have questioned why the administration chose Rice to make the Sunday talk shows rounds just days after the Benghazi attacks. They also have asked who briefed her that the attack came about after spontaneous reaction to a video.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire on Tuesday called for additional hearings to clear up many unanswered questions that remain regarding the origin of the talking points.

The senators wanted to know who briefed Rice before she went on the Sunday shows and why she said the Benghazi compounds had strong security before the attack.

“Was she briefed by the State Department or the White House that the video caused the attack? If so, who provided the brief?” they asked in a press release.

The senators also made the point that during the Sunday shows, Rice wrongly said there was a high level of security at the Benghazi compound, in one instance saying “we had substantial security presence with our personnel” and in another stating, “we obviously did have a strong security presence.”

“Who informed Ambassador Rice about the level of security at the compound? Why did she make such claims that were clearly misrepresentations of the facts?” they asked.

Editor's note: Judicial Watch is representing the Washington Examiner in the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking access to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau records under FOIA.

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Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner