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The Benghazi Emails: What Do They Show?

This afternoon the White House released 100 pages of emails that trace the development of the talking points about Benghazi that Susan Rice eventually used on her notorious tour of the Sunday morning news shows, and that formed the basis for much of what the Obama administration said about the attacks for weeks afterward. This is the original version of the talking points that came out of the CIA, with slight revisions. Note that this initial version is ambiguous, reflecting what was probably genuine uncertainty on the part of the drafters. Note, too, that there is no reference to any YouTube video:

The CIA said that “[t]he currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US consulate and subsequently its annex.” On the other hand, it also says, “we do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations,” and refers to “numerous” prior warnings by the CIA and prior attacks carried out by “extremists linked to al Qaeda” in Benghazi and eastern Libya. Further, it notes reports that Ansar al-Sharia was involved. What happened over the ensuing 24 hours or so is that this initial summary was watered down to the point where it was virtually devoid of content.

Several significant points emerge from the emails. First, as has been widely reported, it was the State Department that drove the dumbing down of the talking points. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland–”Toria” to her friends, evidently–represented the department in the negotiations over Benghazi. She was particularly concerned that the public not get the impression that the Obama administration had been warned about the potential for violence in Benghazi:

Democratic Party political operative David Adams weighed in on Ms. Nuland’s side:

This email refers to the State Department’s “deep concerns about mentioning the warnings.” We certainly wouldn’t want it to get out that the Obama administration had been repeatedly warned of the potential for terrorist violence in Benghazi!

The emails make another key point crystal clear: the administration molded the talking points for the specific purpose of counteracting the news, which was already starting to get traction, that what happened in Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack:

In Congress, “they all think it was premeditated,” so we need to “correct the record.” In fact, though, it was premeditated, as everyone now knows. Furthermore, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was already well aware, based on her famous 2 a.m. conversation with Greg Hicks, that the attack was premeditated; that there was no demonstration; that armed terrorists assaulted the Benghazi compound and overran it. Yet Hillary Clinton did not participate in the email communications, and she apparently never communicated what she learned from Hicks to anyone involved in the messaging process.

Not only that, the emails show that the FBI had already concluded that al Qaeda (not just al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) was involved. Yet this information never saw the light of day:

I have not seen this reported anywhere. It strikes me as a blockbuster revelation.

As the email communications played out, Hillary was entirely absent. So who ran the show? Another striking fact about the emails is that the process was driven entirely by political operatives. The process was run by Ben Rhodes, an Obama speechwriter; Tommy Vietor, who started out driving a van for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign; and David Adams. Even David Petraeus was a mere flunky; he said that he would rather not use the watered-down talking points, but the Obama administration was not interested in his opinion:

As the talking points finally emerged from the administration’s political process, they lacked any reference to the many warnings the CIA had given about the potential for terrorist attacks in Benghazi, or the actual attacks that had already taken place there. They didn’t mention Ansar al-Sharia. But they didn’t refer to any YouTube videos, either:

Which brings us to the penultimate significant point: the email threads manifest a strong concern with what Susan Rice would say on the Sunday morning news shows. That drove the rush to get the talking points finalized. Yet, what Rice actually said bore little relation to anything that went before. Her harping on the YouTube video had no support in any version of the talking points, and her insistence that there was no evidence of a planned attack was flatly contradicted by the original version of the talking points, and only tenuously supported by the final version.

So the final question is: where was Hillary Clinton in this process? Based on her conversation with Greg Hicks, she knew that the assault was planned, and that it was carried out by terrorists armed with RPGs and mortars. She knew that there was no demonstration over a video, or anything else. And yet she allowed her colleague Susan Rice to spin a web of lies to mislead the American people. Is Hillary Clinton an absent, inept manager who has little to do with what happens in the department she ostensibly runs? Or is Benghazi just one more example of an administration that cares nothing about policy, and everything about politics–an administration that is endlessly willing to subvert the truth for political ends? My own judgment is: certainly the latter, perhaps the former.

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