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What About the Video?

The Benghazi email dump leaves some big questions unanswered

May 27, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 35 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Hillary Clinton mentioned it in her remarks at the ceremony to receive the caskets of the four dead Americans on September 14, regretting the violence “over an awful Internet video we had nothing to do with.” According to Charles Woods, the father of one of the officials killed in the attack, former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, Clinton told him at the same ceremony that the U.S. government would make sure the filmmaker was “arrested and prosecuted.” Pat Smith, the mother of communications specialist Sean Smith, reported that Clinton told her the same thing, “nose to nose.”

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., spoke for the administration on multiple television talk shows on Sunday, September 16, delivering variations on the theme that Benghazi was “a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video,” as she told Jake Tapper, then at ABC. “Our understanding and our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo .  .  . that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere,” said Jay Carney on September 18.

Asked about Benghazi on September 20, President Obama referred to “natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video [and] were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.” It was one of several times he would cite the video.

Despite the centrality of the YouTube video to the administration’s public discussion of Benghazi, it goes virtually unmentioned in the nearly 100 pages of emails between the nation’s top intelligence and Obama administration officials as they reshaped the talking points provided by the CIA. The film trailer is included as part of a list on the first page of the documents and again at the very end, in the subject line about a meeting of high-ranking officials on Saturday morning: “SVTS [Secure Video Teleconferencing System] on Movie Protests/Violence.”

As the top U.S. officials discussed what to include in the talking points that would shape their case to the country on the attacks in Benghazi, the video was absent. Whose idea was it to make it the centerpiece? The Obama administration still has a lot of explaining to do. 

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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