As Scott discussed earlier today, the absence of any reference in the Benghazi talking points to the Muhammad video has raised a new set of questions about the scandal. Among the questions are: (1) why isn’t the video mentioned in the talking points and (2) how, given the video’s absence therein, did it become the centerpiece of subsequent explanations of the attack, including Susan Rice’s.
As to the first question, Mike Morrell, the Deputy Director of the CIA, says he drafted the final version of the talking points. Morrell’s mission was not to state the CIA’s view — the original CIA talking points did that. Rather, he was tasked with coming up with a version that reflected the “equities” and concerns of those who had objected to the original talking points, notably the Department of State.
In performing this function, Morrell was willing to scrub the talking points of all content that the State Department and the White House disliked. That meant the removal of references to terrorism and to prior warnings that attacks might occur.
But Morrell did not include any mention of the video. Why? There are two possibilities. First, the video didn’t come up in any of the discussions in which Morrell participated. Second, the video came up, but Morrell was unwilling to mention it because he doubted its relevance. In this scenario, Morrell was willing to scrub the talking points, but not to convert them into a piece of misdirection.
Which of these possibilities is the more likely? The video doesn’t come up in the email traffic released by the White House until it is referenced in the subject line of a Saturday afternoon email from “USUN” to “Susan Rice, USUN” (page 92 of the documents). Specifically, the subject line reads “SBU/Closehold: 0800 SVTS on Movie Protests/Violence.”
Thus, the video, and its alleged relation to the violence on 9/11/12, apparently was discussed during a conference (on the “Secure Video Teleconferencing System”) that occurred early Saturday morning. But I cannot tell who participated in that conference. The memo about the conference has been completely redacted. And I couldn’t find any other email that specifically discusses this conference.
Was the “0800 SVTS on Movie Protests/Violence” the main Saturday morning conference during which the concerns of the State Department were thrashed out. Or was this a different conference? Morrell, of course, was at the main conference. But if there was a side conference, he might not have participated.
In any case, by around 11:00 on Saturday morning, Morrell had re-drafted the talking points into something very close to their final form, based on the main conference that took place earlier that morning. And the talking points did not mention the video. Most likely, the video had been, at most, a footnote in the Saturday morning conference with Morrell at which the State Department advanced its “equities.”
It was on Saturday afternoon, after the talking points had been finalized, that the video began its ascent from (at best) an omitted footnote to the core explanation of the Benghazi attacks. Unfortunately, the only email (or the only one that has been released) that might shed light on this ascent is completely redacted.
It seems likely, though, that on Saturday morning (if not earlier) the video was percolating in the minds of White House and/or State Department officials as something they wished to inject into the narrative. However, these minds realized that, with Congress pushing hard to receive the talking points and the CIA involved in the process, it was not feasible to weave the video into the talking points.
In other words, the best that could be done with the talking points was damage control — the elimination of “harmful” information. The insertion of the video would have to occur “off-line,” after the CIA was out of the loop but before Rice went on the Sunday talk shows.
But who actually decided that the talking points would be the centerpiece of Rice’s appearances? Karl Rove suspects the White House via Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor. I suspect the State Department with clearance from the White House.
But the bottom line is, we don’t know. Additional hearings are required. Susan Rice should be a star witness.