On Wednesday, in an effort to increase transparency and defend the White House from allegations of a cover up, the administration released approximately 100 pages of emails revealing the internal deliberations about the controversial Benghazi talking points Susan Rice was given for her Sunday Show tour.
Facing accusations of an election related cover up by conservative pundits, and accusations from the House that the talking points were altered to protect the State Department, pressure finally broke the White House when on Friday, ABC News published House GOP-provided emails related to the talking points. The emails provided by the House GOP corroborated the findings of their interim review, and set the White House squarely in the sights of the media.
It was not revealed until Tuesday, when a full email was released to CNN's Jake Tapper — specifically the email by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — that the differences between what the House GOP supplied and what actually transpired were apparent. The difference between the GOP narrative and reality was so striking that Tapper bluntly commented:
Whoever provided those accounts seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.
Tuesday's release of a single email, it turned out, precluded the final release of all the emails on Wednesday evening. Reaction to the full release fell largely along political lines. For Republicans, the emails raised new questions, and for others, it deepened the divide between what the House GOP was arguing and what the evidence actually suggested.
Here is what you need to take away from the full chain of emails:
1. The CIA Came Up With the "Spontaneous Protests" Theory
Bullet point one of all twelve versions of the talking points ultimately claims that the best intelligence suggested the attack actually was a "spontaneous demonstration." This bullet point underwent several revisions throughout the process, but, the key point never changed.
Indeed, as confirmed by the emails of several intelligence officials, questions about what we could really confirm were circulated. On page three3 of the emails, an NCS official asks whether we really '"know'" al Qaeda participated, and the CIA responds with, "Good point ... perhaps better stated that we know they participated in the protests. We do not know who was responsible for the deaths."
2. The CIA Ordered References to Al-Qaeda and Ansar Al-Sharia Removed, Not the White House
Per an email from CIA general counsel, participants were advised that they are explicitly forbidden from directly referencing groups — and not just to the media, but internally. Specifically, counsel warns that they are restricted from doing so because there are concerns that such a conversation would prejudice an ongoing NSS/DOJ/FBI investigation.
After that email from counsel, references to Al-al Qaeda are removed, but references to Ansar al Al-Sharia remain. According to unnamed, senior level officials, Deputy CIA Director of the CIA Mike Morell removed references to Ansar al Al-Sharia and CIA warnings of his own volition,. Morell was concerned that the talking points were unprofessional as they seemed to point a finger at the State Department, but did not provide them an opportunity to defend themselves. Reportedly, he also believed they were irrelevant to the central message of the talking points in that they did not speak directly to events that occurred in Benghazi on the night of the attack.
3. The State Department Put the Investigation Before Protecting Itself
The most controversial email sent by Nuland, pictured above, does specifically seek to protect the State Department from criticism. However, after reading the whole email, Nuland clearly (and literally) places the integrity of the investigation first. Nuland essentially makes the point that references to Ansar al Sharia should not be included because they would contradict what the agencies are allowed to discuss, per the ongoing investigation, and allow representatives and the media to lay blame on Ansar Al-Sharia before the investigation was concluded.
Essentially, Nuland points out an important discrepancy — --that the media and Congress could make assertions the administration could not yet verify — --and she does so before defending the State Department.
In an earlier email addressing the talking points, Nuland does not cite concerns about the document, but instead seeks additional information to respond to inquiries. Specifically, she asks to know how we know what we think we know. It is not until Nuland learns that the talking points will be disseminated to Congress and the press that she develops her concern.
4. The White House Coordinated the Process, and the State Department Was Involved, But Barely
The White House did make an edit early on — for example, National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor added 'Cairo' to the first bullet point for clarity. The edit Carney spoke of, wherein the word "consulate" was changed to "diplomatic post," is also accounted for. Evidence that the White House pushed for more substantive edits is largely absent.
Nuland's email cited above, in its second-to-last sentence, specifically seeks to protect the interests of the State Department. It warns that the bullet point regarding CIA warnings could potentially open up the State Department to outside criticism, especially from the House. Another colleague of Newland's agrees with her assessment.
5. Jay Carney Was ... Something ...
At best, Carney was mistaken, and at worst, Carney was lying. Although, to say Carney was lying is to imply he was complicit in the cover-up — a cover up which doesn't seem to exist. At this point, it's not just rational to conclude that Carney simply made a mistake, but it has already been reported that his initial talking point — that the State Department and White House made only one change — was made without him having read the entire chain of emails.
In words of Rick Perry, "Oops."