White House told Susan Rice to blame Benghazi on a YouTube video

This is a pretty big “get” by Judicial Watch. The conservative watchdog organization filed suit in last summer to gain access to documents related to the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack. Those emails were released by the organization on Tuesday.

Among the 41 documents obtained by Judicial Watch is an email from then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes to other prominent White House officials that focused on goals tailored around a very specific narrative: blame Benghazi on a video and not policy failures:

The Rhodes email was sent on sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 8:09 p.m. with the subject line:  “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.”  The documents show that the “prep” was for Amb. Rice’s Sunday news show appearances to discuss the Benghazi attack.

The document lists as a “Goal”: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in and Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes memo were White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, then-White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, then-National Security Council Director of Communications Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary Howli Ledbetter, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist Davie Plouffe.

The Rhodes communications strategy email also instructs recipients to portray Obama as “steady and statesmanlike” throughout the crisis. Another of the “Goals” of the PR offensive, Rhodes says, is “[T]o reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”

Here’s the portion of the email outlining the White House’s goals concerning then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s talk show appearances set for the Sunday following the Benghazi attack:

Other sections of the email focused relations with Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as well as the administration’s policy toward the Arab Spring. There is also a recommended denial of any intelligence indicating that there was any threat of an imminent attack in Benghazi. That section repeats the claim that the attack wasn’t an attack, but rather a protest that went awry.

The real issue in this particular email is that it contradicts what the White House has previously said about the Benghazi talking points. Officials claimed that it was the CIA which suggested that the video caused the protest that went bad:

What the batch of e-mails (most of which aren’t new, they can be read here) show is the opposite: that the CIA and the State Department assembled talking points pinning the attacks partly on the video, without any input from the White House.

Then the White House told Susan Rice to argue that the intelligence community had concluded, on balance, that an exogenous factor (the video) had caused the protests, and that administration policy (in terms of the stability of Libya and the fight against al-Qaeda) wasn’t to blame here.

Between September 11 and September 12, there was plenty of information in exchanged among officials that this wasn’t a protest gone bad. There are frequent references to an attack and a couple mentions of Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group that took responsibility for Benghazi. In fact, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters on September 12 that it was “was clearly a complex attack.”

Four Americans died and an explanation for the attacks was delayed because it didn’t fit the narrative the White House wanted, which was to shift any attention away from President Obama, who was facing reelection, and onto the YouTube video.

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