ABC News source stands by reference to State Dept in leaked Benghazi talking points emails — White House defenders get the controversy they want (Update – Stephen Hayes stands by his reporting as well)
Jake Tapper reports that the White House is disputing that the Benghazi talking points were edited in the way ABC News and The Weekly Standard presented them, leading to charges that the emails were doctored. The ABC News source is standing by the leaked emails.
Based on Jonathan Karl’s updated report (quoted below), it looks like the White House played Tapper to create a controversy by releasing just one in a chain of emails. Regardless of how it turns out, this provides the dodge White House defenders were looking for, and they are relishing it.
The White House does not deny that the talking points were edited, and we all can see that important points — such as prior threats and the al-Qaeda involvement — were removed, and that the focus shifted to the video by the time Susan Rice used them.
CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.
The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.
Tapper then goes on to detail how the issue is not that that important information was removed, but that the prior disclosures seemed to shift the focus as to the purpose of the removal of information:
Whoever provided those accounts seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. While Nuland, particularly, had expressed a desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and CIA warnings about the increasingly dangerous assignment, Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his e-mail on the State Department’s concerns.
The White House, State Department, CIA and others could release all emails and communications regarding the talking points, and all drafts thereof, so we wouldn’t have to rely on leaks.
Jonathan Karl, who broke the ABC News story, makes a similar point in response this White House selective leak, noting that his source stands by the email reference to the State Department (emphasis mine):
The source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails. The White House has refused multiple requests – from journalists, including myself, and from Republican leaders in Congress – to release the full e-mail exchanges.
The differences in the two versions are being taken by some as evidence that my source sought to intentionally mislead about the extent of State Department involvement in changing the talking points. The version I obtained makes specific reference to the State Department, while the version reported by CNN references only “all of the relevant equities” and does not single out State.
But there’s another important note here that touches on State Department involvement and shows that the portrait remains far from complete. The subject line of the e-mail, according to CNN, was “Re: Revised HPSCI Talking Points for Review.”
The e-mail was sent to, among others, officials at the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence office, the National Security Council, and the State Department, including then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The official who provided this e-mail to CNN removed the other e-mail exchanges from other principals. That includes anything written by Nuland, who – as I reported – objected to a paragraph in the draft talking points that referenced prior threats against US and other foreign interests in Libya.
In that e-mail, according to source, Nuland wrote that such information “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned …”
The paragraph Nuland was “concerned” about was removed in its entirety. That e-mail has not been disputed by the administration.
I asked my original source today to explain the different wording on the Ben Rhodes e-mail, and the fact that the words “State Department” were not included in the e-mail provided to CNN’s Tapper.
This was my source’s response, via e-mail: “WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about.”
The White House could still clear up this confusion by releasing the full e-mail transcripts that were provided for brief review by a select number of members of Congress earlier this year. If there’s “no ‘there’ there,” as President Obama himself claimed yesterday, a full release should help his case.
So the White House released just one in a chain of emails and will not release the full chain itself, which it then uses through a selective leak to cast doubt on what ABC News always said was a summary (but which may still be an accurate summary). Nice work.
The motives behind the edits also can be deduced from the edits themselves, which show that information damaging to the Obama campaign narrative was removed. That’s really all we need to know, and it supports the ABC News sources account.
Even David Petraeus termed the final version useless.
In the end, all the White House needed to do was get people to chase squirrels. And at that it succeeded, via Tapper.
Update: Stephen Hayes stands by his reporting as well (emphasis mine):
Neither of my pieces quoted the Rhodes email. This was no accident. Near-verbatim is not verbatim. My first piece quoted the House GOP report on Benghazi and reported that Rhodes suggested taking the issue to the Deputies Committee meeting scheduled for the next day. My second piece paraphrased the House report – attributing concerns to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, the author of the email to which Rhodes was replying, rather than the State Department generally – and reported that Rhodes suggested taking the issue to the Deputies Committee meeting scheduled for the next day. Rhodes did not respond to a request for comment from TWS before the original report on his emails….
There is one way the White House can ensure everyone is working from the original emails. It can release them publicly. That way, everyone can see exactly what was being said in real-time and in context. It would provide a better understanding of the issues at hand, something the White House claims to want….
To cite just one example: We don’t know who provided the Ben Rhodes email to CNN, but the leak did not include the earlier emails in the chain among top administration officials. If it had, we would know more about a curious reference on page 20 of the House GOP report. The report describes an email we now know was written by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who wrote to the group that earlier edits to the Benghazi talking points did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership.” And then, according to the House report, Nuland’s email reported “that the Department’s leadership was consulting with [national security staff].’”
Like I said, this entire diversion of leaking a single email out of a chain of emails to Tapper was simply meant to put critics of the administration back on their heels and to provide an excuse for White House defenders to throw around word like “doctored.”