Taking a page straight out of the Ehrlichman-Haldeman playbook, White House staffers circled the wagons to protect President Obama from critical fallout following the Sept. 11, 2012 disaster in Benghazi, Libya, where the ambassador and three top officials were killed.
Documents obtained on April 18th through court order by Judicial Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOAI), include emails showing then-Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other White House flacks drawing up plans to burnish the president’s image, and shift blame for the attack to the infamous Internet anti-Muslim video.
Like Nixon’s Praetorian Guard, Rhodes and brethren sent out instructions far and wide to insulate the president – and by default Secretary of State Clinton – from the obvious failure to secure a United States consulate on Sept. 11th.
A Rhodes email dated Sept. 14, 2012, 8:09 pm ET, sent to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice concerning her upcoming Sunday news shows appearances read in part: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan…Goal: To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
The emails gleaned by Judicial Watch after an 18 month struggle are only mildly redacted, as opposed to those received by investigating congressional committees, which were so heavily blackened out that they were unusable. Tuesday’s releases present a distinctly contrary picture than that portrayed by the White House communications cadre.
On the day of the firefight, 6:41 PM Washington time, Eric Pelofsky, Senior Advisor to Ambassador Susan Rice, sent her the following email: “As reported, the Benghazi compound came under attack and it took a bit of time for the ‘Annex’ colleagues and Libyan February 17 brigade to secure it. One of our colleagues was killed – IMO Sean Smith. Amb. Chris Stevens, who was visiting Benghazi this week is missing. U.S. and Libyan colleagues are looking for him…”
The following day Rice received another email, explicitly stating that earlier in the day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had noted that the attack on the consulate had been well planned.
Yet on five talk shows that Sunday, Rice relied on heavily edited talking points by then-CIA deputy director Mike Morell – in true John Dean fashion – to preach the hateful video-spontaneous uprising scenario. Morrell later admitted that CIA analysts had told him that they felt the assault had been meticulously planned to commemorate 9-11.
Meanwhile, Rhodes was instructing such White House luminaries as Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, political strategist David Plouffe, and then-Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri to portray Obama as “steady and statesmanlike;” that the United States government had nothing to do with the video, rejects it in its entirety, and deplored reactionary violence to its hateful message.
Another public relations theme that Rhodes recommended to prioritize was “[T]o reinforce the President and the Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges…that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike.”
Considering that 22 months have passed and not a single Libyan terrorist has as yet been apprehended, despite their whereabouts being known to CIA and FBI agents, one might wonder about the current commander-in-chief’s call for dispensing swift and appropriate justice.
Reaction to the Judicial Watch revelations was swift on Capitol Hill. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News, “If this isn’t a smoking gun, there never will be one,” inferring that the White House was behind the spin to make Obama look good while campaigning for reelection.
Graham also co-signed a letter with fellow Republican Senators Ayotte and McCain, filled with tough questions about Obama administration inconsistencies and incongruities, and sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees. They asked them to demand answers from the White House, especially about the “talking points” that Jay Carney had so vigorously denied.
Former Bush White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said on Fox’s Special Report Tuesday that Rhodes was not the villain, just the messenger. She wanted to know who gave him his marching orders, who dreamed up the incendiary video as the culprit, and who was the heavy hand behind the massive redaction of the emails transmitted to Congress.
Fellow panelist Charles Krauthammer felt that the emails demonstrated a classic cover-up of a cover-up, because they so ably undermined the narrative the White House had been pushing. He also expressed pessimism that the mainstream media would pursue the issue, but as happened in in the early 70s, there are plenty of wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins foraging in Washington, ready to cut their teeth.
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