In response to media calls for release of emails regarding Benghazi, the White House dumped 94 pages of documents on reporters Wednesday that contradict Administration claims that changes to CIA talking points covering al-Qaida’s involvement were driven by intelligence concerns.
The emails show heavy involvement by top Administration officials, particularly in Clinton’s State Department, in changing the talking points to blame a YouTube video and spontaneous street protests.
The mainstream media have been focusing on the CIA talking points since ABC ran with its story last week that the Administration’s message about the events that led to four American deaths in Benghazi had gone through at least a dozen revisions that drastically altered the content and obscured the involvement of terrorist organizations.
That the Administration knew from the beginning that terrorists were involved is a key point, as President Obama kept blaming an anti-Islam video for at least two weeks. During the presidential debates, Obama flat-out lied to the viewing public about acknowledging terrorist involvement in Benghazi, a falsehood he only got away with because the debate’s moderator, Candy Crowley, also lied to back him up.
It’s also important because Susan Rice addressed the United Nations, and by extension the world, using the doctored talking points.
The ABC report apparently broke the media’s logjam over reporting the Benghazi story, as one after another news organization has criticized the Administration this week.
Additional influences on the sudden change of media attitude have been the revelations about the Department of Justice spying on the Associated Press, along with the growing scandal over IRS harassment of Tea Party and conservative groups.
Old habits die hard. Even amid this month’s cascade of scandals, some in the media, such as ABC’s Jon Karl, are still trying to defend the Administration and Clinton, who is eying another run for president in 2016.
But the media situation for the Administration is dire, with even some of the most rabid Obama supporters growing disenchanted. Andrea Mitchell earlier this week expressed her alarm over the DOJ’s seizing of AP phone records, and even Chris Matthews — he of the “thrill going up my leg” comment when talking about Obama in 2008 — has been turned off, saying Obama “obviously likes giving speeches more than he does running the executive branch.”
Matthews’ turnaround is like the conversion of the Ninevites, hoped-for but completely unexpected. Here’s more of what he said:
“What part of the presidency does Obama like? He doesn’t like dealing with other politicians — that means his own cabinet, that means members of the Congress, either party. He doesn’t particularly like the press. … He likes to write the speeches, likes to rewrite what Favreau and the others wrote for the first draft. So what part does he like? He likes going on the road, campaigning, visiting businesses like he does every couple days somewhere in Ohio or somewhere. But what part does he like? He doesn’t like lobbying for the bills he cares about. He doesn’t like selling to the press. He doesn’t like giving orders or giving somebody the power to give orders. He doesn’t seem to like being an executive.”
The emails released by the White House do not cover the first 60 hours or so after the attacks, so the White House is still withholding what is likely damning information.Considering the reactions so far, don’t be surprised to see an invocation of executive privilege to keep the rest of the Benghazi emails under wraps.
What the released documents do show, however, is that Clinton and presidential spokesman Jay Carney were not telling the truth when they each said the talking points were rewritten by the CIA, driven by intelligence concerns. Chances that they would not have been aware of the details of the rewriting process seem almost infinitesimally small, so it’s a safe bet that the two of them just outright lied to the public.
Perhaps most damning among the released documents, however, is a note from then-CIA director David Petraeus after all the editing, saying that because so much information was removed, “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then.”
White House officials are probably wishing they had listened.