CNN’s Jake Tapper has obtained the verbatim text of an email from Ben Rhodes, a top Obama adviser on foreign policy and national security, which I referred to in two recent pieces on the Obama administration’s manipulation of the Benghazi talking points. It's a good scoop. Assuming the email is accurate, it adds some additional detail to the 24-hour period when the CIA talking points were substantially rewritten.
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.
Tapper’s report quotes my second piece. I’ve included all of this below – my email to Rhodes, the email that was provided Tapper, and my descriptions of the Rhodes email in two pieces in TWS.
1) Email to Rhodes.
It’s Steve Hayes from the Weekly Standard. I’m working on a piece about the Benghazi talking points. I understand you wrote the email on the evening of September 14th suggesting that the talking points issues be resolved at the Deputies Committee meeting the next morning. I’d be eager to get your account of what led to that email and what happened in the meeting that led to the version of talking points the administration ultimately used – that [sic]I’m jumping on short flight now, but would I'm available later tonight to talk. Or happy to take whatever thoughts you have by email.
2) Tapper’s version:
“Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
3) Description in the May 13, 2013, edition of TWS:
The changes, [Nuland] wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.
4) Description in the May 20, 2013, edition of TWS (the article quoted in Tapper’s post):
In an email a short time later, Nuland wrote that the changes did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership.” She did not specify whom she meant by State Department “building leadership.” Ben Rhodes, a top Obama foreign policy and national security adviser, responded to the group, explaining that Nuland had raised valid concerns and advising that the issues would be resolved at a meeting of the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee the following morning. The Deputies Committee consists of high-ranking officials at the agencies with responsibility for national security—including State, Defense, and the CIA—as well as senior White House national security staffers.
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.
At his very challenging briefing Friday, spokesman Jay Carney defended the White House’s efforts to provide information about Benghazi to the public in the hours after the attack. “And our effort has been to be – to provide as much information as we have when it’s available and when we feel confident it’s accurate.”
Carney’s boss made the same claims last fall. “Everything we get, every piece of information we get as we got it, we laid it out for the American people,” he told Jon Stewart on October 18.
He emphasized this point again in an interview with Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish on October 26. “This is something that the American people can take to the bank. My administration plays this stuff straight. We don’t play politics when it comes to American national security. So what we have consistently done throughout my presidency and what we did in this circumstance is as information came in we gave it to the American people. And as we got new information, we gave that to the American people. And that includes, by the way, members of Congress.”
It’s not too late. The White House can still provide these emails, so that the American people, and that includes members of Congress, have a better understanding of the decision making process that produced the scrubbed talking points on September 15, 2012.
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].’”
Is this characterization from the House report accurate? Did the consultation happen? If so, who in the State Department leadership spoke with the White House’s national security staff? Why weren’t they satisfied with the earlier edits? What were the remaining “issues” with the talking points?