The White House went on the defensive Wednesday to explain newly released emails that appear to show the administration drafted talking points to blame the fatal attack in Benghazi, Libya, on a spontaneous protest rather than a coordinated assault planned by al Qaida-linked Islamist militants.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing at the White House that the emails released on Tuesday by a conservative watchdog group weren’t about Benghazi specifically, but instead referred to a different set of talking points that addressed unrest across the region.
“The email and the talking points were not about Benghazi they were about the general situation in the Muslim world,” Carney said.
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012 led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and fueled Republican investigations into the source of the attacks and the administration’s response.
At the time, then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice said on five Sunday talk shows that the attack was prompted by anger about an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube, a claim that turned out to be false.
Republicans say the set of 2012 emails released to the DC-based Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request are the "smoking gun" that proves the administration tried to spin the tragedy to minimize political damage to President Barack Obama in the final months of a hard-fought reelection campaign.
In the emails, a White House official listed goals for Rice’s public comments about the attack, including "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy” and "to reinforce the president and administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges."
That official, Ben Rhodes, is the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communication and speechwriting.